Are Banks Worse Than Phone Companies?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my synagogue’s monthly finance committee meeting. Not a particularly mind bending event you say? Well you don’t know what seven Jews can find to make mischief about.

The highlight of the meeting was the general lack of customer service provided by our current banking establishment. This led to my innocent remark about the quality of the electronic payment system offered by my bank. This in turn led one of our committee members to research the comments about my bank on the Yelp website. Not good.

Have you ever seen positive comments about banks? A lack of comments is considered a badge of honor. Beleaguered branch personnel are generally trying to understand and implement lengthy and incomprehensible rules made at the corporate level…rules that seem intended to drive customers to the breaking point with anguished calls for help like “are you crazy?…or, does the person making the rules even have a bank account?…and my favorite “I’m going to switch banks.” Sure you are…if you have a death wish.

While all this was going on, my monthly phone bill arrived from the usually clueless Frontier Communications. My Frontier land line and wi-fi have been missing in action since the fiery holocaust that descended on my home town on December 4, forced me to evacuate my home and mercilessly destroyed telephone polls, fiber optic lines and cell towers.

Obviously, expecting Frontier to send a nice condolence card and a note waiving all charges was too much to expect.  So I thought I’d better give them a courtesy call. I called Frontier’s “we’re here to help” number and settled down for a nap while my call moved ever so slowly toward the end of a very long line of angry customers.

Click…”I’m Matt and how can I help you.”  Matt, a pleasant “customer service” guy based in a red state wasn’t aware of the Southern California fiery holocaust. I asked him if he watched TV. “No, I don’t watch anything that might make me unhappy.” It got better.

I suggested that it might be appropriate to put collection of my debt on hold until they restored service. And a refund of a portion of the prior bill might also be in order starting with December 4, the day my house nearly burned to the ground.

After being on hold for an eternity while Matt searched every available record at Frontier, I was informed that I had to pay my bill and that I would get a refund after service was restored (he had no idea when that might occur.)  I said something like “you’ve got to be kidding.” I suggested that the worst thing that could happen would be that Frontier would cancel my account for non-payment. Since I didn’t have any service anyway, it would make little difference in changing the earth’s rotation or inclination. Matt had no idea what I was talking about.

Matt said he would escalate the call.

Maybe banks aren’t so bad after all.

Life begins…again

The change has been breath-taking. Little more than three months ago I lost the love of my life. Ila’s passing left an enormous hole in my heart and my life. Merely calling it “grieving” is an insult to the nearly sixty years that we loved and held each other, living life, rearing a family and knowing what each other was thinking without saying.

Nearly eight years ago, Ila fell ill with what may well be the worst malady of our times. Losing ones  mind and appetite for life is a tragedy that leaves those watching and caring with a feeling of helplessness and a progressive loss of hope.

Good friends, loving children, religious support and bereavement groups do much to soften the sense of loss and emptiness that fills the hours. The silence of the home is heavy and slow. Time seems to stand still. Music of any genre is a welcome respite from the quiet that envelops me. Phone calls from strangers who would otherwise be unwelcome break the monotony that depresses. I say always say “yes” to “would you like to…?”

And then, gradually, life returns and starts to normalize. People begin to look at me without the sympathy that formerly preceded a chance encounter. I try to fill my hours with an appetite that recognizes that the way out of sadness is paved with a renewal of old activities and an adoption of new ones that were never considered in a past life. Rough edges give way to periods of happiness. Accompanied by a feeling of guilt that says “is it too soon to be happy?”

Funny how things happen. Out of the blue and without warning.  A lovely woman, caring about my loss, suggests that a yoga class might help to work through the darkness. And maybe a hike would be a way to fill the time. And lunch would be a good idea to help replace the pounds that were lost due to an absence of the pleasures of eating. And slowly a relationship develops with her that both recognizes my loss and offers a new sense of being alive.

Suddenly Jackie is an indispensable part of my life. Hours are spent marveling about my luck.  I continue to attend the bereavement group and I incessantly ask if it’s ok to feel alive again. “Maybe you’ve spent enough time in purgatory” becomes a mantra. “How much time do you want to spend before embracing what has been delivered to you by fate, God or happenstance?”

So life has returned with a vengeance that leads me in directions never contemplated. Jackie has shown me the way and I grasp it and her with an urgency that recognizes the indisputable passage of time. I devour it and I’m happy.

 

Music and Monsters

Went to the Pasadena Pops outdoor concert Saturday night. First time for me. The theme was music from Universal Studios films. Nancy and Kevin bought tickets that let us to sit on teeny fold-up chairs on the lawn of the Los Angeles Arboretum. Way back from the orchestra. Bless Kevin’s heart, he managed to squeeze his substantial body into the chair and didn’t complain…much.

There were two giant TV screens on either side of the orchestra that played film clips from the movies whose music was being featured. If you squinted really hard you could almost make out Elsa Lanchester as she became the Bride of Frankenstein. A little known fact is that Ms. Lanchester didn’t even have her name listed in the movie credits. No wonder she was an angry monster.

We brought sandwiches, chips and drinks. Other people, with a greater sense of the accoutrements required by such a gathering, brought picnic umbrellas, fold-up tables and all of the other things that make a lawn party fun.

We arrived an hour before show time and found that a sea of people had already staked out spots in front of us. We settled on a space barely on the same planet as the performance. I tried unfolding the lawn chair but, as I have come to realize, I am thoroughly baffled by the mechanics of that process. Sitting is quite another problem. There’s this part of the aluminum frame that rested directly beneath my thighs. The first half hour was devoted to finding the sweet spot for my fanny. The next two hours was focused on the way that aluminum tube gradually forced its way into my thigh. Sort of detracted from the entertainment.

The hour before the show started was prime time for people watching. This was no rock concert, accounting for the relative absence of anyone between the ages of eighteen to thirty. An abundance of older people, most white, roamed the lawn, made multiple trips to the facilities and ate.

I felt singularly single. I did a lot of gazing and daydreaming. Elderly couples were in abundance with the wife generally helping her somewhat challenged husband into his thigh-unfriendly chair. Younger couples shared wine and dessert. Families spent time renewing acquaintances and chasing their small children who were intent on losing themselves in the sea of humanity.

Directly in front of me there were four middle-aged women, all wearing wedding bands. Obviously on a girls night out, they eagerly shared a couple of bottles of wine, laughed and seemed not to care when the show might begin. I thought how lucky their husbands were to have them.

The Bride of Frankenstein seemed pretty good to me.

God, Rabbis and Hummingbirds

Went to temple last night. Rabbi Mike was conducting the first session of Taste of Judaism. I was half there. The other half was somewhere else.

I was invited to Sheila’s home for dinner before the class. Met Jeff who lost his wife six years ago. Sheila lost her son before that. So here we were, comrades in arms. Sheila is such a good cook and an even better host. As big as a minute and a veritable ball of energy, she never turns down an opportunity to do good.

Despite our common grief, we spent little time dwelling on it. For me, and maybe for them, the subject hung in the air begging to be let out of the shadows. Like India Ink, forever permanent.

Dinner over, we went to the temple. My first exposure to a crowd of people since the funeral. Some knew of my loss and stepped forward to greet me with hugs, warm kisses and kind words. Others did not know me, much less my grief. I wanted to make an announcement. “I’m Fred and I lost the love of my life two weeks ago. I’m in need of your attention.” Feeling selfish and needy was not warm and fuzzy. But there it was, something unshakable.

Rabbi Mike asked each of us to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for being there. I resisted the urge to say something like “My wife died two weeks ago and I just felt that I wanted to be among you.” So I said something else, truthful but not satisfying.

This first class in the series was devoted to the concept of God. On previous occasions I had been exposed to the Rabbi’s thoughts on the subject. How the creation of the world and everything in it could not have been random occurrences. How morality could not exist without a framework that defined right and wrong. And how belief in God did not require a definition of the term but merely a leap of faith. Not a micromanager, God relies upon us to do good and help others.

The best part of the ninety minutes was sharing in the delight that Rabbi Mike expressed as he taught us the things he held dear. It was in the smile on his face, the energy as he waved his arms, jumped from his chair and made finger shadows on the wall. A man like this was not to be denied.

I don’t know if there is a God but with Ila’s passing it is a comforting concept. I’ve been spending late afternoons on the patio, watching the shadows spread over Ila’s garden. Occasionally the quail family will hop up on the low wall surrounding the garden. They march to and fro putting on a display that I believe has been choreographed just for me.

To the left is a veritable field of native fuchsia filled with bright red blossoms that should have long ago dried and fallen from the spindly arms of the plants. But they seem ageless and are visited daily by hummingbirds. They dart through the air like rockets, appearing to be in competition with their kind. Pausing only briefly at the nectar filled blossoms, they leave the fuchsia only to return in a display of aerial prowess. On occasion, they will hover close to me as they contemplate their next move.

I’ve adopted the belief that one of those hummingbirds is endowed with some of Ila’s essence. I’m not sure which bird it is but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that I believe it.

It’s hard

It’s hard remembering the good times. I seem stuck on the bad ones. The awfulness of the disease and the things that it did to her.

I wander through the house looking for something to do. How many times can I do laundry? I turn on Spotify to fill the silence but it fails to quiet my mind. I walk past the condolence cards set up on the island in the kitchen and think about the kind words spoken by the senders.

All the cards are meaningful and every one of them has some special thought penned by the sender. Some are quite beautifully written and others not so much but equally welcomed. There was an outpouring of cards a week ago but now they sort of appear randomly. Like everything else in life, things seem to return to normal and other events take the place of those that fade.

I don’t feel like doing much. No, that’s not entirely true. I think if someone called right now and said “meet me at the coffee shop”, I’d go. The house is big and no human sound emanates from its walls. I’ve tried the sofa near the TV, the chair in front of the fireplace, the wobbly chair in the sun room and that little couch in the bedroom where Ila would sit trying to tie her shoes. It’s an uncomfortable couch but we spent a lot of time on it talking, arguing and holding hands.

And then Lisa called. She and Hal wanted to take me on a field trip. Field trip? They arrived, I got my dorky hat and a bottle of water. Got into their car, drove down the hill and five minutes later we were at the Aaronson horse ranch. Short field trip, I thought.

I’m not a big fan of horses. They always seem to eat the wrong things, stand around clueless in the hot sun, and spend an inordinate amount of time with the vet. But I figured any port in a storm. I followed Lisa to her horse’s enclosure and watched her reinforce an already unbreakable bond with the animal. I did the usual carrot offering and watched as the mare picked daintily at the straw.

I met Al. Interesting guy. Must be as old or older than me yet he moves with the quickness of a cat, tends to the many horses housed at the ranch and comes complete with a history that he shares with anyone willing to listen. He told me about Joel’s first wife, Edith, who passed away years ago. It helped me with my own grief.

We visited some of the horses, and met some horse people (who are unique and thoroughly into loving and caring for their animals.) I was tiring and was ready to go home. But Lisa said “Would you like to meet St. Angelica. She’s pregnant.” I thought, ok one more and then home.

I was alone at the fenced enclosure. A very pretty Angelica came to me but didn’t seem to be looking for food. I stroked her face and scratched behind her ears. She lowered her head and lightly nibbled on my shoe. She rested her warm head on my shoulder. I talked to her, not horse talk but people talk. “Is that you, Ila? Are you reminding me of how you used to tie your shoes?” A silly thing maybe but at that moment I felt warm and happy. I was close to my sweetheart. I could have stood there forever. But Angelica had other things to do, walked away, and left me with a lasting memory.

Sweetie Died

My one and only Sweetie died last week. She wrestled with Alzheimer’s for seven years and it finally took its toll.

It’s like peeling an onion. The first piece is your short-term memory. You will ask the same question over and over. Next comes a jumble of long-term memories. We’ll remove your ability to enjoy music, movies and live entertainment. Crowds will be your adversary. Your appetite will diminish and you will forget how to use a knife and fork. Your sweetheart will cut your food into bite size pieces. You’ll eat a lot of chocolate ice cream but not much else.

We’ll make dressing yourself a chore that takes more precious time away from living. You will forget how to tie your shoes. Along the way we’ll even add a few things, like headaches and pain. Or wild dreams that cause you to sit upright in bed and yell at the dark intruders. You’ll constantly repeat the same stories and create ones that are more fantasy than fact. You will visit the hospital ER several times and stay in the hospital some nights where you’ll rail against being there.

We’ll make you think you live someplace else other than your home. And wonder if your parents are still alive and do they know where you live. People will arrive who want to take care of you but you’ll swear at them and tell them to get the hell out of here or you’ll call the police. Your sweetheart will try to cope but he will feel much of your pain and anguish. Your sole entertainment will be getting in the car, driving into town, turning around and going home. Getting out of the car in your garage and walking to the house will become a terrible adventure.

Your sweetheart will turn his back for an instant and you will fall in the bathroom. And then you will fall a few more times. He will call the fire department to come and lift you from the floor, and you will tell them to mind their own business. You will finally get to bed, the paramedics will leave and he will wait for it to happen all over again.

You’ll sleep a lot on the chair in the sun room, the soft one in front of the fireplace and the couch in front of the TV. In a lucid moment, you’ll sit on the edge of the couch and say “I can’t do this anymore.”

Eventually you’ll have a caregiver because your sweetheart is exhausted. The hospice nurses will visit every day. They will bring a hospital bed, a walker, a wheelchair and other things that you thought you would never need. They will know things about life and death that only come from doing it over and over again.

You’ll fall asleep for days. Then, without warning, you will be gone. And your sweetheart will feel his heart bursting from his chest. And he will be alone for the first time in fifty-seven years.

And everything will remind him of you. He will fill his time by crying. And he will love you more than ever.

I’ll just let it explode

So what if the bridges are desperately in need of repair. I told them we would fix them if they named half of them after me and the other half after Yvanka. But they told me that wasn’t acceptable. So I’ll eliminate all the funding and wait until they start collapsing over the Mississippi River. Then they’ll come running to me to accept my deal.

Climate change is a fairy tale. But, ok, I told them I’d fund half of the needs of the National Institute of Health if they’d lift all the restrictions on coal mining and waive any claims made by miners with Black Lung disease. But they said that was cruel and unusual punishment. So I’ll eliminate all the NIH funding and wait until a tsunami hits New York. Then they’ll come running to me to accept my deal.

Obamacare will explode and the Democrats will own it. I offered them a deal where 24 million people would lose their healthcare coverage while the rich would get a hefty tax reduction. And they told me to stick it where the sun don’t shine. So I’ll just sit on my hands, do nothing to fix the problem and just wait until the current law of the land destructs. Then they’ll come running to me and bend to my will.

Which one of those three scenarios is the truth?

Can you imagine the president of a Fortune Five Hundred company who’d refuse to make product improvements while thousands of his customers were being injured by his defective but fixable product? Of course you can.

Can you believe that the President of the United States would sabotage a law that he had sworn to uphold? Just because it wasn’t his own law. Of course you can.

The president takes an oath. “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Clause 5 of the Constitution specifies that the president “must take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”   President George Washington interpreted this clause as imposing on him a unique duty to ensure the execution of federal law. Discussing a tax rebellion, Washington observed, “it is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to [that duty.]

But then, our current president hasn’t read the Constitution.


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