Archive for December, 2020

My e-mail runneth over

I thought the election ended six weeks ago…foolish me. Failure to elect two U.S. Senators from Georgia has precipitated a run-off and the attendant pleas for funds with which to wage battle.

The Republican candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, are pitted against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock. I am intimately acquainted with Ossof and Warnock as evidenced by multiple e-mails delivered each day. Failing to consider the consequence of my actions, I made an early contribution to each of their campaigns without realizing that this would make me fair game for additional requests…my bad.

As justification for embracing this wholesale e-mail onslaught, social scientists would have me believe that the rapid-fire delivery of hourly messages will eventually, like brainwashing, break down one’s defenses and result in making unaffordable contributions with my nearly maxed-out credit card.

Things seemed to be moving swimmingly with Loeffler and Perdue as they aped the rantings of their savior, the President. Ossof and Warnock seemed to be stuck complaining about the President with stories that we’ve already heard. Anxious to fully concentrate on who gets to the Super Bowl, most Georgians have probably already made their choice and are simply awaiting the results delivered by Russian-hacked election machines and hanging chads.

Even the Senate fell into line by approving a stimulus bill that would provide $600 to the eligible unemployed, just enough to have a decent night out if there was only someplace to go. I’ve been waiting so long for the conclusion of this tortuous Congressional process, that the eventual approval of a $900 billion aid package seemed a bit like chicken feed, even though the bill itself ran 5,600 pages.

It’s not the best of bills, but that’s what comes of compromise. We can explain, the politicos figured, the nuances of the bill to our constituents, knowing full well that their attention will be focused on the $600 Treasury check in hand and the Super Bowl…not necessarily in that order.

What a relief thought McConnell and Pelosi. We’ll be home for the holidays. McConnell was especially ebullient with his primary role in the proceedings. Speaking to his constituents he promised, “Help is on the way”. A job well done. Just sit back and relax.

And then came Trump. Feeling unwanted, he took action that would force everyone to refocus on him and forget about the Super Bowl. First, he refused to sign a military spending bill that had veto-proof majorities in Congress. A number of provisions irritated him including stripping the names of Confederate officers from military bases. Other objections included his demand that legal shields be stripped from social media companies…the ones that seemed to delight in criticizing him.

Still feeling unloved, he then took aim at the $900 billion Covid-19 aid package by declaring it a “disgrace”. Until this fit of pique, Trump had left the negotiations to Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Steve, believing he had a done deal on Monday as a result of the President’s earlier promise to sign the bill, said that the $600 payments could be distributed “as early as next week.” In a CNBC interview on Monday, Mr. Mnuchin said, “It was a great birthday present for me to have Congress pass this today.”

Not so fast, Steve. Better ask your wife to return that present to Amazon.

On Tuesday, apparently forgetting which Party he belongs to, Trump demanded that the payments be raised from $600 to $2,000. Republicans who had been loudly celebrating their success in capping the $600 came unglued. Were they supposed to support Trump’s newly discovered generosity, or should they risk the President’s animosity which will reign supreme in Mira Lago after he packs his bags and rolls out of the White House? 

Like a boa constrictor sensing a potential victim, Nancy Pelosi congratulated the President for his newly found sensitivity to his citizens’ plight. She reminded him that this is what the Democrats always wanted anyway and offered to bring the $2,000 plan to Congress for unanimous consent. Knowing full well that the Republicans would reject it and create a firestorm of criticism, she licked her lips and spent the rest of the day waiting for other diabolical opportunities.

The Republican senators in the Georgia runoff found it difficult to extricate themselves from their original announcement supporting the $600 bill. When asked what she thought about tripling the payments, the best that Kelly Loeffleur could offer was that it might be ok if we could squeeze the extra bucks out of other wasteful government spending. That approach should be doable well before the next ice age, well after the Georgia runoff.

Faced with a delay in passing any kind of bill that would provide financial relief, an exasperated Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, Twittered“Does the president realize that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?”

The answer to the Senator’s query is, probably not. I wondered if President Grinch even knew when Christmas was.  And then I got this e-mail from the National Republican Congressional Committee, labeled Christmas Card Update. It warned me…We noticed that you STILL have not signed President Trump’s card. HURRY–failure to respond tonight will result in your exclusive spot at the top of the card being given to the next top Trump Patriot on our list.

At least someone will be happy.

Bowled Over

It was perfect. No wind, temperature in the 70’s, and a warm mid-day sun caressing my shoulders, easing both physical and psychological stress.

We had left home for a twenty-minute walk to the Ojai Arcade. Mid-way, Jackie used her phone app to impersonally order two Acai bowls from Revel, the specialty food shop that focuses on Acai bowls and Kombucha.

Acai is an ancient berry from the aptly named Acai palm tree that grows in the Central and South American tropics. The berries are crushed, pureed and frozen. The resultant purple puree looks and tastes much like ice cream but is less fattening and, according to the promoters of Acai, more nutritious. 

The puree base of the multi-faceted Acai bowl can be topped with nuts, granola, fruit, chocolate, honey and just about anything else that you find hiding in your kitchen cabinet and refrigerator. It can be quite addicting and I suspect that the nutritionally touted, loaded-up bowl delivers a surprisingly high caloric punch to the unsuspecting muncher.

Eating the bowl’s contents is done with a very sturdy green plastic spoon that could probably be used to jimmy steel doors. You hold the bowl in one hand and spoon its contents into your mouth. I am in a hurry to devour the taste sensation and often embarrass myself. My skill level is low, and I often spoon dollops of Acai and a cascade of roly-poly blueberries directly onto my multi-stained, old guy sweatshirt. I have yet to see Jackie duplicate my sloppiness, but I am still a novice perfecting my skills, while she is the princess of Acai.

Revel offers three kinds of bowls; I am addicted to the Awesome. It sports coconut, cacao nibs, cherry granola, fresh fruit du jour, sliced banana and a drizzle of captivating, oozy peanut butter.

Jackie is hooked on the Libbey Bowl, largely because of its clever Ojai name, cinnamon granola and blueberries. She often brings her own supplemental toppings and is a wizard at piling them onto an already unsteady creation.

The two bowls were prepared a few minutes after she ordered them and put into Revel’s freezer where they could be retrieved when we arrived at the food shop; the place that has consumed much of Jackie’s disposable wealth over the last few years.

It was Sunday and the Farmers’ Market, coupled with wandering out-of-town looky-loos, produced an overflow crowd seeking a respite from the virus. We got our bowls and matching green kryptonite spoons and made a dash for our favorite bench.

This particular bench is part of our routine and the bowls don’t quite taste the same without it. Our faces dropped when we found the bench occupied by two young people who, in addition to being from LA (you can tell by the way they dress), were preparing to spend the entire week obstructing access to our favorite spot.

Even the less-desirable benches were occupied, further adding to my rapidly declining culinary desire. The second-class seating consists of an irregular two-foot rock wall that meanders around the grassy area and is a favorite place for animals to deposit the deconstructed remains of their food and drink.

We picked a decent spot midway between Bonnie Lu’s Café and Rains Department Store, carefully placed our fannies on the hard, bumpy surface, and took the tops off our bowls. My appetite was returning rapidly, and I put the cold, hard seat out of my mind. I dug into the bowl, felt its welcoming pushback, and came away with a delectable mixture of purple Acai, bits of crunchy granola and a big, fat blueberry. Life was good…until Rochelle showed up.

Rochelle is not quite with the program. Jackie describes her as being socially inept, including the annoying habit of affixing herself semi-permanently to anyone who is not quick or agile enough to avoid the encounter.

She also doesn’t believe that facemasks have any value. Nor does she care whether I do. This was displayed with aplomb when she sat down beside me, brought her face to within two feet of mine, and most assuredly deposited invisible Covid-19 droplets into my Acai bowl.

With my appetite once again ruined, I reset my mask and expressed my irritation. “If you want to join us, Rochelle, kindly move six feet away and put on a mask.”

In response, I received a volley of useful information, “Masks are useless. Nobody ever died because they didn’t wear a mask. The flu is a hoax. The government wants to control us. I want my freedom to do as I like.”

My first thought was to respond with cold, hard facts. Realizing the folly of this approach, I focused on her point about freedom and asked “What if a stranger wanted to sit naked on your front porch and take a dump in your flower box?”

Stumped for a quick response, she gave me room for more catchy repartee. “Think of it this way, Rochelle. You don’t have to believe that a mask protects you from anything. But if you wore a mask, your friends, who are few and diminishing, would be more receptive to your uninterrupted intrusions.”

Using my highly developed powers of observation, I realized that she was about to deposit more droplets of increasing size into my acai bowl. A once pristine bowl that was now a toxic waste dump.

As if heaven sent, a friend of Rochelle’s appeared and moved into range. She had overheard our battle cries and sat down, complete with a makeshift bandana that sort of masked her nose and mouth…a good sign. Introduced as Marilyn, she calmly proclaimed that I had basic human rights that should not be encroached upon by Rochelle.

A harbinger of reason, I thought. Until she said, “You know, masks have been shown to cause carbon dioxide poisoning, and wearing a mask weakens your immune system. Mask wearers have been unable to absorb the good microbes in the air to enhance their ability to develop resistance to other diseases. And personally, I fully support that Palm Beach, Florida woman who said to her County Commissioners…I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear, things gotta breathe.”

I rose from my rock seat and wished Rochelle and Marilyn good health. I then deposited my nine- dollar acai bowl in the trash. But in spite of my misgivings, I wondered if there wasn’t some truth in what Marilyn had said.

Maybe I won’t wear any underwear tomorrow.

It’s Cold Out There

It’s really cold out there.

Maybe not if you live in Chicago, Omaha or Missoula. When I lived in Chicago’s Albany Park, I thought that temperatures hovering around freezing were normal. That changed when we moved to the Golden State where any temperature under 72 brings out my thermals, gloves and stocking hats. You adapt to your surroundings.

My established routine changed when Covid-19 became an entrenched intruder on my otherwise happy life. In addition to altered eating, shopping and travel habits, I was forced to change my scheduled visits to the gym. To accommodate my trainer, Robert, 8am sessions were moved to 7am. An early riser anyway, it was no big deal in the summer…until the days grew shorter and walking to the gym in bright sunshine gave way to utter darkness.

It was like that this December morning. Up before six, dressed in an overpriced Patagonia jacket, head covered with my favorite pulldown cap, and with Apple Air Pods protruding from my prominent ears, I began my twenty-minute slog in inky blackness.

Spotify’s music from my iPhone cascades brilliantly through the Air Pods and obliterates most of the ambient noise. I can still hear the rare oncoming car as I walk against the traffic but I continually wonder if I can be seen by the random driver who may not be fully awake. Even at 20 miles per hour, the passing car reminds me that I am no competition for a two-ton block of oncoming metal.

The 42-degree walk accompanied by songs that have weathered the years is delightful. The still dark homes along my route have become familiar. The same cars with familiar license plates are parked at the curb. Little along the way draws my interest…except for the house on Fox Street.

I am nearing my destination when the house appears on my left. It’s like many homes on the street; old, clad in clapboard, needing some paint, with cars and other discarded memorabilia strewn about in its grassless yard.

A ten-foot-long banner is nailed on the front of the house above the door. “God Bless President Trump” fills the entire banner. American flags festoon much of the rest of the wall; they have, like other violations committed by our current president, hung unlit through the night. I’m sure the banner has been displayed with pride since Trump’s 2016 election. 

The 2020 election threatened the future of the Fox Street banner. During the first two weeks after the election, I expected to see a blank space where the garish banner had hung so long. It is now four weeks after the election and it is still there; I believe it will remain as a stark reminder until well after Covid-19 has departed.

The porch over which the banner hangs is populated with a few weathered chairs, a wicker table on which I imagined a half-empty can of Budweiser, a cigarette stub filled ashtray and the remains of yesterday’s half-eaten tuna sandwich.

I saw the homeowner only once as I walked past his home a month before the election. He was a bit younger than me, robust and seemingly in good health. He took the initiative by offering me a sincere “Good morning” and, other than the Trumpian banner overhead, showed no evidence of political bias.  I was surprised by his welcoming demeanor and a bit chagrined by my unsupportable vision of his wicker tabletop.

I wondered why this amiable guy would choose to display the outsized Trumpian banner for years, while the rest of us were satisfied with much smaller curbside pronouncements of our political bias, and then only for a month or so.

Why was his banner still staring at me when my political buddies had already junked theirs?

The answer was revealed to me this morning as I read Mark Danner’s article in the New York Review of Books. It chronicles Mark’s attendance at Trump’s September 10 campaign rally in Freeland, Michigan. Trump launched into his speech before thousands by claiming, “We brought you a lot of car plants, Michigan! We brought you a lot of car plants. You know that, right?”

This was followed by an earsplitting roar of affirmation: Yes, Mr. President, we know that!

But what was true, and perhaps unknown to those at the rally, was that no new car plants had been built in Michigan since Trump began his presidency. What was true was that three thousand Michiganders have lost their jobs in the auto industry. What was true was that it didn’t matter what was true. What was true was, if Trump says it, it must be true.

And so, if Trump says the election was rigged, it must be true. Even when he leaves the White House on January 20, there will be millions of Americans who will believe he was cheated by the elites, the dark side, paper ballots, immigrants, and people who are not like them.

And that’s why that banner will hang on that nice man’s porch, in the cold, forever.


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