Coffee heat rising

Confused…

Well, now we know I’m not the ONLY one in these parts who’s confused. Just opened a bill from American Express, demanding $2769 and change. ASAP, a substantial part of it being past due.

Huh?

I know I paid last month’s bill, which amounted to some $1877.

Everything being haywire after the theft of all my credit and ID cards, I paid AMEX with a check. On February 2. It must not have cleared by the time they sent this bill. Evidently not: in an obscure corner they grouse about not receiving last month’s contributionm to their vast wealth.

A-a-a-n-d here on the credit union’s website I find an “external withdrawal” dated February 28, in the amount of $1877. Can’t see a check that cleared for that amount, so I assume these are somehow magically the same transaction. I hope.

My, but life in the 21st century is tiresome! One could even say, at some moments, that it’s…heh! for the birds.

Yea verily: this afternoon I needed to get a bag of birdseed. With Instacart defunct — it won’t accept my new credit card! — Costco is no longer an option for that purchase: I can’t haul a 50-pound bag from the car to the backyard seed bin by myself.

Passed an interesting-looking crime scene in the stick-and-styrofoam tracts along the way: a cluster of cops and cop cars descending on an alley behind a couple of homes. And HOLY mackerel, I just missed this. I was there right about at that time of day. Ahh, lovely Phoenix!

To the northwest of the ’Hood lies a moribund shopping center. In fact, the mall itself — once the largest enclosed shopping mall in the land — has been shut down for months. But the shops located outside the gigantic main mall building, scattered around acres of asphalt, are still open. One of these is a large Petco.

Surprised to see it was still in business, I veered off the main drag, darted into the parking lot, and scored a spot right in front. Not a good portent, as it developed.

Inside the store, there were two (count’em, 2) customers: me and some guy. Found the birdseed and tossed a couple of bags into the cart. Rolled through the empty checkout line, trudged across the parking lot, plopped them into the Dog Chariot, and proceeded home.

When I hauled them back to the seed bin and cut a bag open, I saw there was a reason that store has effectively zero clientele.  The damn birdseed is covered with dust. Dump it in the bin, and a cloud of dust flies up into your face!

Apparently it doesn’t taste very good either, not to the avian palate. The birds are barely touching it.

So today or tomorrow I suppose I’ll have to traipse over to the neighborhood Walmart and buy two or three bags of seed there. Then come back here, dump the remainder of this stuff in the alley, refill the bin and feeders.

Is there some reason why EVERYTHING has to be frikkin’ impossibly difficult or annoying? I mean…birdseed? You can’t buy a decent bag of BIRDSEED???????  In a PET STORE???

Who knew there were levels of quality in birdseed, anyway?

Yesterday afternoon I did at least make it to the Costco — which is why I was over on that side of town. And was reminded of WHY I liked Instacart so much.

{sigh}

I’ve come to hate shopping in Costco. People lose all contact with their minds when they go into that place. They roam around gazing entranced at the warehouse-ceiling-high piles and piles and PILES of goodies and don’t even notice that there are other people around them. Dazed, they amble up the middle of the wide aisle, so you can’t get around them on either side. Their kids scream and they don’t even hear the little darlings’ plaintive wails. And whoever and wherever they are, they’ve gotta get there first!

While I was trying to find some boned chicken thighs to make dog food for Ruby (the stuff I get at AJ’s is now deservedly kaput: not buyin’ that again!), someone rolled off with my cart.

Yeah: GONE. All the stuff I’d accrued while walking around the 3.35-acre store was disappeared.

I was so disgusted, I just walked out. Screw it…who needs ambience like that when there’s a Sprouts up the road and a Walmart around the corner?

Yes: chicken… Costco’s butchers insist there’s a chicken shortage and they can’t get boned chicken thighs.

Huh! Who’d’ve thunk it? There were armloads of chicken thighs at the Sprouts. This is the second time they’ve made the same excuse…heard it the last time I was there a couple weeks ago.

So I dunno what’s going on in that department, but whenever I get off my duff and run by the Walmart to pick up some quality (!!!????!!!) birdseed, I’ll check the butcher counter and see if they’re devoid of chicken thighs, too. Apparently there has been a kind of desultory shortage…

Meanwhile, speaking of folks living with shortages and overall disasters, what a MESS in Ukraine, eh?  I have a friend who’s Ukrainian. Guy was a competitive weight-lifter for years…last I heard, he was still lifting weights even in his dotage. He’s an interesting fellow…kinda strange, with a view of life that’s rather different from the standard American’s.

I do hope we’re not looking at another Vietnam or Afghanistan there…or worse: another world war. Engaging battle with Russia (if that’s what we end up doing) is a whole ’nother matter than taking on a brush-fire squabble in a Third-World country. With any luck, the whole fiasco will backfire on Putin. Still…how lucky we were to block him from installing his chum in the White House for a second term! The situation would be entirely different if that had happened…and, IMHO, far more horrifying than it is.

Reading between the lines, it looks ominously like Putin himself has lost a few of his marbles. He doesn’t appear to be thinking or acting rationally. Evidently he’s as crazy as Hitler. Or more so. lf my guess is right and Putin actually is irrational…well…better have that survival gear up to date.

Life in these New-nited States…

Do you recall thinking that it would be just ay-mazing if you lived to see the 21st century come in? Maybe even highly unlikely?

Well, f’rgodsake, here we are, two decades into the 21st century, and weirdly enough, we’re still here. “Weird” seems to be the word, all right. Sometimes I feel like I’m unstuck in time. Or magically dumped by kidnapping aliens out of a flying saucer  onto some world that is just slightly out of kilter. The miracles of computer science, in particular, seem to me to distort life so that many things are altogether out of whack.

Paying for things, for example.

I wanted to renew my son’s subscription to The Economist, as a Christmas present. Ended up jumping through hoop after hoop after absurd hoop, reciting digit after digit after digit of strange code numbers, fighting my way through ENDLESS yakathon punch-a-button hoops to get to a live person.

One of the interesting phenomena of the 21st century is that spectacularly wealthy corporations spend spectacular amounts of money to fob their customers onto spectacularly complicated and annoying systems to shuck off salaries for a few minimum-wage customer-service phone slaves. Is this amount of aggravation for your customers REALLY worth saving a half-dozen minimum-wage workers’ pay?

Dealing with doctors and doctors’ offices: HOLY shee-ut. First off, just try to get through the phone labyrinth to reach a live human. Then try to figure out WTF they’re talking about, as they try to wind their way through insurance and Medicare labyrinths. And now there are so damn many stupid rules that you have to sit through the same repetitive yakfest every time you call and then explain for the 103rd time that yes you have this piece of bureaucratic luggage and no you don’t have that piece of bureaucratic bullshit and why do we have to do this every damn time?

Could it be possible that Computerized Civilization is actually worse to deal with, psychologically, than the terrifying Threat of Nuclear Holocaust? Do you remember schoolboys shooting up their classrooms, back in those terrible dark ages? Is it possible that the dehumanization inflicted on us, here in the Digital Age, is driving our young people mad?

Well, I need to get off my duff, write Luz a check, and then traipse off to someplace to buy my son a Christmas present. Speaking of computerized phone hoopjumps, I finally just gave up trying to renew the subscription to The Economist for him. Apparently they don’t want us as customers.  I should’ve thought about going through Amazon, except…I’m not sure how you would renew an existing subscription through that route.

And so, awayyyyy…. after a fashion.

What? A Poem of What…

Shot off in the purple haze emanating from the bottom of a bottle of wine…

************

“You fell,” he said.
“I’m not leaving my home,” she said.
Her home, where she had brought up the man in front of her from the age of about nine.

“You can’t stay here alone,” he said.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
Unconvincing.
Unconvinced.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“We must put you somewhere else.
A home where someone is there
All the time
24/7
To look after you.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Can you not imagine, my son,
How you might love your home
More than life?

No.

Can you not imagine, my son,
That some things matter more than life?

No.
“I am afraid for you.”

No. No, my son: you are afraid for yourself.
For your guilt. For your conscience.
Most of all,
For your impotence.
For the impotence that is human.

“We will sell the house.”

“No.”

“We can use the money to pay
For your care.”

No. No, my son. You will use the money
To pay for your guilt.
To pay for your impotence.

“Put her in this bed,” he said.
“And let her sleep.”

Let us sleep.

All of us.

*************

This afternoon I stopped at a house for sale in the neighborhood just to the east of mine. The houses are about 20 years older than the ones in my tract (which came into being in the early 1970s) and also about half again as pricey. Needed work, the place did. As I’m about to clilmb into my car, along comes a middle-aged man, who pulls into the driveway and climbs out of his SUV.

“Tryin’ to sell the place, are ya?” I ask.

“We have an offer,” he says. “Looks like it’s gonna go through.”

We chat.

His mother has lived there for lo! these many years. They moved in when he was nine years old, and that’s where he grew up. From his point of view, it’s the family homestead.

They have her in a “care home.”

I sense what this means: one of those fly-by-night outfits run under the radar by Tony the Romanian Landlord and his ilk, the one who has peppered the ’Hood with a half-dozen “nursing homes.”

He thinks it’s grand. It’s not, after all, the Beatitudes or the Terraces. That would be why I sit here getting shit-faced on the dregs of a bottle of Bogle.

Holy fuck, what a people we have become!

But meanwhile, beside it all and beneath at all: what do we do with our parents when they can no longer care for themselves?

What do we do with people that we, deep in our hearts and unmentionable souls, do not want to care for ourselves? Or cannot care for, wives and sisters and daughters having to go into the marketplace to help keep the roofs over our heads and the food on our restaurant tables and the SUVs in our driveways?

What?

Prepping For a Trump Loss

Opinion polls suggest our President is likely to lose in tomorrow’s elections. Personally, I’ll believe that when I see it, first because I’m not convinced public opinion polls are spectacularly accurate and second because, between you ‘n’ me ‘n’ the lamp-post, I believe Mr. Trump is fully capable of pulling off a coup.

He has  surrounded the White House with an unclimbable wall, and we have seen that he has built and employs his own private militia. And he has effectively issued a call to arms to the nuttier members of his large and nutty following.

One thing we’ve learned, if we’ve learned anything over the past four years: the stability of our republic is nothing like we imagined. Our present predicament — an irresponsible wannabe dictator in the White House whipping up mobs of uneducated, hate-stupefied followers in the mode of Adolf Hitler or Jair Bolsanaro, ripping children out of their mothers’ arms, making fun of disabled people, spreading hate and fear, waving an upside-down Bible in front of a church whose congregation would like nothing to do with him, minimizing a highly contagious, lethal disease: also unimaginable. Merchants and business owners so certainly expect trouble that they’re boarding up shops and business offices.

Given that he’s egging on his followers to block highways and harass those who disagree with them, and that he’s doing what he can to suppress the vote by fear, by intimidation, or by bully posturing, and that a whole lot of crazies have been taken in by him, I think it’s wise to be prepared for unrest — especially if Biden comes out on top.

Before the election results start to come in, stock in food, household supplies, and medications, top off the car’s gas tank, and if you’re armed, keep a supply of ammunition on hand. Since .22-, .38-, and .45-caliber shells are in mighty short supply, a can of bear spray could in theory be used for self-defense.  You should be able to get this at an outdoor store, assuming the stuff is legal in your state.

Crazed “demonstrators” are likely to knock out power. So do have a camp lantern and plenty of batteries in the house, plus a propane grill and plenty of propane. And water. Several days’ supply of water.

This threat will persist over several weeks, until all the ballots are counted and the elections are decided. So it would be wise to have at least a month’s worth of provisions stocked in. More, if possible.

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….

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.