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I’ve been shot

In spite of many real or imagined misgivings, I got my first Covid vaccination shot last week.

After months of watching TV horror stories about the scarcity of the vaccine, the lack of resources to stick it in my arm, and the uncertainty of when old guys might be eligible, I was sure that I was destined to remain a vaccine virgin for the foreseeable future.

Maybe not. While engaging in my evening sport of reading mindless Facebook postings, my iPhone announced an incoming missive from the County of Ventura.

“Dear Old Person”, it began. “You and the other over the hill citizens are now eligible to get shot. Use your smart phone to contact us and make an appointment. Better hurry, there’s a lot of you old farts out there.”

Since passing well beyond the age of consent, I have learned to pay close attention to directives from the government bureaucracy. It controls just about everything out there, and I find it much easier to do as I am told. Sort of like depending on a wife who lovingly believes it’s her job to guide me through my day and put me down at night.

Dutifully and without hesitation, I found the Ventura County sign-up site on my iPhone and was astonished to see every appointment slot for the next two weeks wide open. Comparing notes with Nurse Jackie, we chose a mid-afternoon slot two days hence at the Ventura Fairgrounds. So far so good.

Jackie is a bit antsy about getting flu shots; I think she may be a closet anti-vaxxer. Last year was the first time that she finally opted to tank up with the seasonal vaccine that’s intended to ward off the run-of-the-mill flu. She survived that encounter without injury and, I thought, was ready for the bigger challenge of the Covid vaccination. Overcoming her multiple bouts of squeamishness required repeated doses of “Don’t worry, Sweetheart, you will be fine. I promise.” A liberal helping of inducements, like bribing a four-year-old, sealed the deal.

A born pessimist, I spent the two days before the vaccination conjuring up various scenarios, all of which were mildly depraved.  I thought, “They will run out of vaccine just before my turn at the needle. They will lose my reservation and, with all appointment slots taken, I will need to wait a month for a new one.” Worst of all, I was certain that I had developed every symptom of the Covid virus, would be disqualified from participation…and, of course, die.

Often feeling fluish and sure that I had a temperature over 101, I made several dozen attempts at taking it with my battery driven instant read thermometer. The bliss of seeing 98.6 popup on the little LCD window soon became my favorite avocation; unfortunately, the bliss was short-lived, and I reverted to my customary misery after only a nanosecond or two.

The big day arrived, and Jackie and I arm wrestled over when we should leave for the Fairgrounds and our 3:40 pm appointment. I was certain that being even 5 minutes late would consign us to the trash heap of no-shows, banished forever due to our chronic tardiness. We compromised and departed almost an hour before our appointment. The trip took only 25 minutes, which Jackie duly noted…several times.

The line of cars on the access road to the Fairgrounds stretched into Santa Barbara County, or so it seemed. We inched along the road without the need of the accelerator pedal. I watched the dashboard clock grind down at cosmic speed until it reached and then surpassed our 3:40 appointment time. I was sure I was going directly to hell.

The entrance to the parking lot was ushered by a very nice man whose job it seemed was to provide information and, secondarily, severely back up the traffic while he shared anecdotes with the drivers. He encouraged us to stick with the program, telling us they were an hour behind schedule and not to worry about being late. Jackie stared at me with that “I told you so” look.

We parked, made careful note of where we were, and headed off in the direction of the inoculation site. We had plenty of company.

This was just the second day following the opening of the vaccination event to folks over the age of 75. I swear that everyone that age in the Northern Hemisphere was at the Fairgrounds. People with canes, walkers and wheelchairs filled the void. It was the first time in years that I was at an event where I was younger than other people.

The blessed volunteers guided people from lane to lane as we moved slowly toward the Fairgrounds’ entry door. For all I knew, inside it might as well have been Valhalla, Shangri-La or any other place of happiness. The eagerness of the elderly to get the vaccine belied the thought that old, chronically impaired people have nothing to live for.

I admit that the secrecy of what lay beyond the entry door played tricks with my imagination. I wondered if we were really being guided to the end of our road, much like those people in the futuristic 1976 film Logan’s Run who were exterminated at the age of 30.

Or perhaps we were signing up to have Charleton Heston turn us into food for the living in the film Soylent Green.

But no, there were only angels behind the Fairgrounds’ door. Angels who took our names, examined our id’s, helped us fill out forms, escorted us to our seats, administered our shots and sat us down for 15 minutes while they made sure we had no adverse reactions.

Angels who did everything efficiently, kindly and with a smile. Angels who put themselves at risk by exposing themselves to us.

Even though the process took nearly three hours, it was a model of good planning, dedicated workers and friendly faces. We all took it in stride. No one butt into line, no one complained, and everyone followed instructions. People helping people.

It was dark when we left the building, and with the aid of our iPhone flashlights we found our car. As we drove to the exit, we found the same happy usher who had guided us at the beginning of our journey. He smiled and asked if we were ok.

“Sure”, I said. “Thanks to you and the other angels.”

I’ve only got another two weeks before I get my second shot.

Better charge the batteries in my thermometer. 

I’m on sensory overload

Normally a placid, accepting person with a don’t rock the boat mentality, my patience has been worn dangerously thin by the pandemic. So thin that I physically react to sharp sounds, like the shutting of doors and even the clink of new ice cubes as they exit the freezer cube tray and drop into the awaiting receptacle. I’m convinced that I no longer require my hearing aids since I hear everything within a three-block radius.

We’re in a race. A race featuring two competitors, the Covid-19 virus and the County of Ventura. Winner take all.

I’ve adjusted my life to the pandemic. I’ve tightened up my exposure to situations that seemed to almost dare the little Covids to bite me.

I can be seen wearing a tight fitting, blood clotting mask at 6am while I walk down Montgomery Street to the gym in the dark without encountering another soul.

I’ve have worn several layers of skin off my hands as I meticulously scrub them with soap and sanitizer, even though I have touched nothing but the inside of my coat pockets.

I now religiously launder masks that were previously left alone to accumulate substantial quantities of food particles in the belief that the stoppages caused by my meal detritus would produce a significant barrier to the entry of the virus.

I don’t touch door handles as I enter or exit business establishments. Instead, I use my well insulated upper arm to deftly shove the door open in a manner that offers me enough time to navigate through the opening before the door can slam itself into my fragile body.

I avoid using cash. Paper currency surely harbors the virus in its green ink. I always leave my coins on the counter as a tip, even at the dry cleaners, the pharmacy, and the grocery; I get a lot of smiles that way.

I created an Excel spreadsheet that records any encounter with a living being…including animals.  I carefully monitor the 14-day incubation period during which I wait to see if a confrontation can be dropped from my active list. It’s a sobering exercise that reveals the heart-stopping volume of such encounters and which does nothing to tame my blood pressure.

I visit with friends only via iPhone and Zoom, but I’m not totally convinced that the Covids haven’t found a way to participate clandestinely in the meetups. I have toyed with the idea of wearing a mask during these calls but decided that my friends would not understand and would strongly suggest that I seek professional help.

I’ve signed up to receive notices from the Ventura County Recovers website. Valuable information is communicated daily that includes new case counts, deaths and my favorite…where I stand in the pecking order to receive the vaccine. Old guys like me have been assigned to Phase 1B, Tier 1, right behind the phase that includes mortuary and cemetery workers. So, I can either get the vaccine or die in the process and be disposed of by my betters.

Veterinarians are treated no better than I, which is probably a mistake. If we lose veterinarians to the virus, Fido won’t be able to get his rabies vaccine, leaving the door wide open to a rabies pandemic. It offers me a double whammy: the option of dying from rabies-caused muscle paralysis or suffocating due to the diminished lung capacity offered by Covid.  Poor Fido, poor me.

None of this irritates me. What does make me want to leap from my chair and strangle someone is the unbelievably shoddy way that the vaccine has been produced, distributed and administered.

It’s not like we just heard about vaccines from some extraterrestrial source. No alien being rang the White House doorbell at the 11th hour and said “Surprise, here’s how you make vaccines…go for it.” We had fair warning; we weren’t left alone with just a three-day weekend to work out the details. We had plenty of time to whip out an Excel spreadsheet and document a viable plan. My newly retired daughter could have done it in a week, by herself, with a long lunch hour and without help.

Now we find ourselves dependent on quickly producing the vaccine and efficiently sticking it into 350 million people. We are dependent on each county doing the right thing. Dependent on each bureaucracy to treat people fairly. And, as a result of this Three Stooges planning method, what we have is a very mixed, everchanging, irritating comedy show.

Three days ago, at 6pm. I received an email from the county updating me with the latest bad news…You’re out of luck…no vaccines for you ancient beings for at least two, maybe three, weeks. Find something to do with your spare time.

Unwilling to leave my life to a chance encounter with an asymptomatic virus carrier for the next three weeks, I considered holding my breath for that period of time or laying low at the bottom of my jacuzzi to avoid ingesting any new Covids.

While I was weighing the benefits of each option, a second email from the county tooted its arrival on my iPhone at 7pm.  Good news…pay no attention to the bad news delivered by our 6pm email. Salvation has arrived! You old farts who have managed to be a burden on society for at least 75 years can sign up for your vaccination. Move your fat ass off the couch and make an appointment before we change our minds. More emails to follow.

As a dutiful ward of the state, I made an appointment for 3:40 today.

I’ve spent the last 36 hours worrying about them running out of vaccine at 3:30.

Well Donald, you’ve finally done it

Well, Donald, you’ve finally done it.

Your ego and lies have taken root in the unfathomable depths of the minds of many of your most ardent supporters.  Your unwavering need to satisfy yourself at a dire cost to others has brought us to the scene I am currently witnessing in our most sacred of places, the Congress of the United States.

Heeding your calls this morning to get tougher, hundreds left your rally and stormed the Congress. Here is what one observer, Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt said…

They said that throngs of Trump supporters left his rally to head directly for the Capitol, marching down Constitution Avenue, chanting “U-S-A” and shouting insults to Biden.

Few of the Trump supporters were wearing masks and many had American flags in their hands. In an odd twist, some of the protesters were blaring the song “Y.M.C.A.” from speakers as well as Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

Although you promised those at your rally that you would accompany them to the Capitol, you went back to the comfort of the White House where you angrily Tweeted…

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

Vice-president Pence, being faithful to the Constitution, spoke loudly this morning when he rejected your demands that he illegally reject the results of the election. You must have been enraged, especially because your attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had assured you that Mr. Pence could follow your directive and toss the electoral votes of your choice. Given Mr. Giuliani’s lack of any success in convincing the courts of anything, you should have relied on someone else for advice…Maybe one of the convicted felons that you recently pardoned, like Michael Flynn who urged you to declare martial law a few weeks ago.

Your willingness to sacrifice the basic principles of our country to satisfy your insatiable ego is half the reason why we find ourselves a tragically divided nation. The other half of the reason can be traced directly to the elected representatives who were doing your bidding in an effort to advance their own careers.

Led by Senator Ted Cruz, they demeaned the efforts and thoughtful conclusions of state legislatures, election workers and the courts, all of whom testified to the accuracy and fairness of the votes cast by their citizens. Instead, Cruz and his cohorts continued their lying and the grandstanding they hoped would gain favor with enough of their constituents to keep them on the public dole, and maybe run for President.

They knew they were wrong. They wanted a spot in the limelight and never thought it possible that what they were doing would result in violence or rip through the very fabric of this country. 

Some less faithful to you were strong enough to recognize the truth and said so…

“This is what you’ve gotten, guys,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, yelled as the mayhem unfolded in the Senate chamber, apparently addressing his colleagues who were leading the charge to press Mr. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

Representative Nancy Mace, a freshman Republican from South Carolina, described seeing protesters “assaulting Capitol Police.” In a Twitter post, Ms. Mace shared a video of the chaos and wrote, “This is wrong. This is not who we are. I’m heartbroken for our nation today.”

Even Mitch McConnell rose at the debate and sternly warned his colleagues of the dire consequences of the tactics used by Cruz and Company.

But there were more to blame. The self-dealing political leaders led by Cruz were accompanied by other, less prominent, co-conspirators. They are those among us who supported conspiracy theories, believed without evidence that the election was rigged, and refused to criticize you when they knew full well that you were lying, obstructing and violating the rule of law. Perhaps their original motivations were benign, but in the face of the facts they have been unable to say I was wrong, and even doubled down as your image, like that of Dorian Gray, deteriorated.

They have had the opportunity to call you out. They have chosen instead to luxuriate in the benefits of your presidency…their 401k, the stock market, freedom from burdensome regulations and a laissez faire attitude. While others have suffered greatly during your time in office, your supporters loved your policies and excused your behavior as an inconsequential aberration that was worth tolerating while you showered them with their every wish.

I’m continuing to watch the scene unfold. Where are you; shouldn’t you be there with your supporters? Are you hunkered down? Is your hair mussed, even a little?

Your co-conspirators are hiding under their desks, getting nervous and Tweeting the need for calm, and law and order.  In a curious twist of fate, they are protesting against the lawless protesters. It’s a little late for that. You’ve created the beast and he is now attacking the trainer.

Good job, Donnie. You’re the center of the universe.

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.

There were these three guys…

There were these three guys…

If only it had been one of those old jokes. Like “There were these three guys in a bar” or “Three guys were cast away on this desert island” or “There was this priest, pastor and rabbi.”

But it wasn’t a joke. They were real people who looked a lot like me. All men. Two white, one black. Sitting outside on chairs, about ten feet apart. I got a hint about their political persuasion when I noticed the absence of masks. Except for that, they could have been Democrats. Even be my close buddies.

It was ten days after the election, and they were being interviewed by ABC’s Martha Raddatz in Youngstown, Ohio. I’ve seen Martha do interviews in a well-reasoned manner, willing to accept responses without argument. She’s definitely no Rachel Maddow. Maybe more like PBS anchor, Judy Woodruff. Someone whose rants are usually limited to no more than a raised eyebrow.

It was unseasonably warm in Youngstown. The three men were in short sleeves. The setting reminded me of my teenage years on Chicago’s north side. Flat, green with no hint of drought, a few solitary trees…boring. What kind of angst was it that brought them before the cameras, instead of in their usual Saturday morning positions on the local bowling team.

Pleasantries were brief and then Martha said to Tony, “So you think that Donald Trump has won the election?”

“Absolutely. Joe Biden could never have gotten 78 million votes. No, not ever. The most votes ever? Give me a break. And even if he did, I could never accept Joe Biden as president.”

He went on, “I used to be a Democrat, but I promised myself that if I ever found a guy who sounds like me, I’d vote for him. Then I found Trump; a guy who talks just like us.”

Eric chimed in, “As soon as I heard there were gonna be mail-in votes, I knew it was a recipe for disaster. I don’t think there’s any way of proving that the person who mailed it in is the person who actually did it.”

Martha turned to Gino, “Do you feel the same way?”

“Absolutely. Too much smoke and mirrors. Ballots appearing and disappearing. Those globalists and liberals. I put nothing past them.”

Martha brought herself to her full five-foot-two-inch height and said, “But what about the fact that election officials have said this is the cleanest election ever. No widespread irregularities.”

To which Eric said, “Nope, just doesn’t smell right. Too many irregularities.”

Martha packed up her gear and walked down the street to where she found Teri, mother of four and a staunch Republican.

Every bit as sure of herself as Gino, Tony and Eric were, she was positive there were massive ballot counting misdeeds. “I went to bed winning, and I wake up a loser. They kept finding lots of Democrat ballots and no Republicans. I don’t believe it and never will.”

It reminded me of when the Cubs lost the 1984 National League championship series to the San Diego Padres. The Cubs had a terrific year. It was the first time they were in post-season play since 1945, when I was 6. They had won 96 games, and more than 2 million people bought tickets to Wrigley Field. Ryne Sandberg won the NL Most Valuable Player award, and they had a pitcher who lost only one game the whole season.

They won the first two playoff games to the Padres in Wrigley Field. I wasn’t cocky but I figured they were a shoo in. Then they lost the next three in San Diego, effectively renewing their reputation as losers.

I was crushed. I walked through our Northridge neighborhood mumbling, “I can’t believe it. It can’t be true.” Over and over again.

But my rants changed nothing. The truth was right there, permanently etched in the books for all to see. There was nothing more I could do but live with it. So I did for another 32 years until the Cubs won the World Series.

I’m sure those three guys, Gino, Tony and Eric, are doing the same thing. Wandering around their Youngstown neighborhood, scratching their heads and refusing to accept the truth.

And what irritates me most is that they probably won’t have to wait 32 years to be back on top.

Waiting’s a Bitch

It’s warm today and I’m sitting outside soaking up some heat. The air is still as concrete, and the only noise is coming from my neighbor’s pool pump.

Funny, I’ve never met this neighbor even though I can hear her movements on the other side of my concrete block fence. I wonder if she’s a Republican.

I wonder if she is as agitated as I am waiting for this thing to end.

Waiting for Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. A strange mix of states, all of which are mucking about in a feeble attempt to count ballots. To determine who’s the next guy to suffer the job of President.

Why must I go through this ordeal every four years? An ordeal that plays mind-games with my head. That takes me from high to low and back again.

It all began well before voting day, November 3. The onslaught of early voting only added to the suspense. Who were these people who voted early?

I started counting the days until election day two months ago. Watching my candidate on the screen, I found myself hoping he wouldn’t fall down and die…at least not until November 4. I feared that a Covid nasty would bring him to his knees.

I prayed that he’d stay conscious and erect at least until his running mate could assume the office.

Two weeks ago, I called son David and asked him what would happen if my candidate died after the election but before taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. David Googled and found that the elected vice-president would take the oath. Unfulfilled, I asked him what would happen if both of them died before taking the oath; I think he’s still working on it. Meanwhile I have morbid thoughts about flag-waving guys wearing cowboy hats, racing around in souped-up Ford F-150’s.

I foolishly thought that I would feel better the closer we got to election day. Opinion polls seemed to be headed in the right direction, a comforting thought until I remembered what happened four years ago. To overconfident supporters I said things like, “Don’t count your chickens…” Or, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” Or the Yiddish, “Be quiet, you’ll give yourself a kinehora.” Mostly I just smiled and said nothing.

On election day Jackie was in LA. I was alone with a big TV set and afraid to watch it. I promised myself that I would not turn it on until 5pm. I called Bocalli’s and ordered a medium sausage pizza that left me without an appetite. I made myself a vodka martini that did little to calm my nerves. It took forever to chew the drink’s four olives with pimentos; I was certain they would ever enter my digestive system.

I turned on CNN which was once once a reliable, neutral observer. It was either that or MSNBC which probably called the election for my guy months ago. Or Fox, that rivals MSNBC for best in class for fantasy.

I sat on the couch, chewed on a lukewarm piece of pizza and stared at CNN. John King was standing in front of an electronic map, waving at it with what looked like a Sharpie. Magically, the map segments moved at his command and produced new maps of various permutations and combinations. I was impressed with his sleight of hand and his grasp of numbers but had no idea what he was talking about.

Only one hour past the election, and he was comparing historical data with current voting trends. What-if statements poured from his mouth as though he had a goal of predicting the outcome based on just the votes cast by my Aunt Tilly and my Uncle Max.

It was depressing. I watched the infallible polls being shredded. My guy was a sure loser. Maybe a good thing, since he probably wouldn’t make it to Inauguration Day anyway.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I brought up Netflix on my Roku TV and spotted Moneyball. The ten-year-old movie based on a true story stars Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. The team has just lost three of its top stars and Pitt has hired a numbers whiz kid played by Jonah Hill. They use statistics and probabilities to remake the team to the consternation of its on-field, old-time manager played by the late and lamented Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

I tried to keep my mind on the film but was constantly drawn back to CNN. I flipped back and forth. John King was still dazzling, and I was getting more depressed as the numbers seemed to be beating up on my guy.

It got worse and I fell asleep, probably from a combination of two martinis and a desire to escape reality. I awoke at 11, said good night to a tireless John King, sent Jackie a text, and went to bed where I spent a restless night having muddled thoughts about the upcoming calamity. I even tried to rationalize the worst by thinking about sweet revenge in 2022 and again in 2024…when I’ll be 85.

It’s no better today. I visit the NY Times, CNN, and Facebook with the rapidity of a Gattling gun. I wait for the other shoe to fall, hoping for closure yet dreading the outcome. 

Tomorrow I’ll knock on my neighbor’s door. Maybe she knows something. 

I had a bath on Sunday

I had a bath on Sunday.

sound bath. No water, just a gong and a few other musical instruments. Also known as gong therapy, the instrument is played in a manner that helps with healing, both spiritually and physically.

It was my second sound bath. The first was over a year ago at Healing In America, a laid back place in mid-Ojai that offers yoga, aromatherapy for trauma addiction, quantum energy therapy, and other mysterious programs that my friend Harry would scratch his head about.

My first bath was taken well before Covid when I and twenty others sprawled on the floor at Healing in America, a pillow under my head and a soft banky covering my body. In semi-darkness, I closed my eyes and listened to the gong. Almost an hour passed during which I saw colored lights, heard rapturous sounds, and finally arose feeling much better than when I started. It was, despite my usual cynical self, a surprising experience.

So I was looking forward to another sound drenching, this time at the Ojai Retreat. Offering overnight stays, the Retreat also hosts events that are perhaps not quite as esoteric as the offerings at Healing in America. Attempting to balance these services during a roller coaster set of Covid regulations would strain anyone’s capabilities. In addition, the Retreat has fallen on hard times and been forced to cobble together several sources of capital as it hangs on by its fingernails.

The road to the Retreat winds haphazardly through a residential area. One who is unfamiliar with the road’s twists would be well advised to avoid it at night; daylight trips are challenge enough.

As Jackie drove, I sat back in luxury, remembering how I once drove my father to medical appointments when he could not. Or my cousin Leonard who never learned to drive yet built a successful accounting practice, without ever getting behind a steering wheel. I could get used to this, and probably will, given my deteriorating night vision.

Arriving at the Retreat, I was surprised by the number of cars in the catch-as-catch-can parking lot. I wondered how many people could possibly be interested in a gong bath; then I remembered that this was Ojai, home to thousands who might be charitably viewed as a bit odd.

I thought there might be another event at the Retreat that was filling the lot; but at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, that was probably just wishful thinking.

Donning our masks, we marched up the ramp leading to the outdoor gathering and were greeted by Miriam and Edie who were collecting donations intended to keep the Retreat in business a few hours longer. We ponied up $15 apiece, chit-chatted a bit and walked outside into the event center.

In addition to a perfect view of the Topa Topas, we were confronted with people sitting in chairs, squatting on the ground, and sprawled horizontally on yoga mats. A quarter of the bathers were without masks. The mask-less appeared unconcerned, or perhaps stoned, and included four thirty-ish women who were lying shoulder to shoulder not a Florsheim shoe length from my feet.

I did not need Gavin Newsom to tell me that we were violating a bevy of Covid regulations, and throwing common sense to the winds.

The host of the wash-up began the proceedings by wading into the midst of the crowd, stopping at and towering over the diminutive Jackie. A nice enough fellow, he announced the mask requirement which seemed to have little impact on the four horsemen of the apocalypse laying at my feet. Mask-less himself, he punctuated his introduction with several mucous-ridden coughs that deposited Covid sized spittle onto Jackie’s arm.

The sound bath began, and I did my best to emulate my year ago experience at Healing in America. I closed my eyes, thought about my snuggly banky, envisioned the multi-colored lights and listened for the gong that would heal me. But all I could think about was the little Covid guys finding their way into my nostrils from perfect, or rather imperfect, strangers. I spent the rest of the hour guesstimating the remaining minutes until my release.

I wondered why I didn’t just grab Jackie and leap through the nearest exit. I was torn just like Tom Hulce, the protagonist in Animal House, who found himself pulled in opposite directions by his alter egos. The Angel and the Devil perched on his shoulders, spouting good and evil, as Tom pondered violating the sleeping young woman in his fraternity bedroom. Unlike him, I succumbed to the worst and remained to the end.

But my bath water would be forever cold and murky.

Careful Where You Step

I wake slowly, stare out the window, and watch the night give way to the dawn. I welcome daylight and embrace it so I can avoid the pratfalls that afflict those whose night vision might better be labeled night blindness.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have the pleasure of being in Robert’s hands at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club. My thirty minutes with him are devoted to strengthening my upper body, working on my balance, and enjoying his wit. I haven’t fooled myself into thinking that I can reverse the aging process; I merely want to take a break from it for a few more years.

Since moving to town, I have been blessed with the ability to walk to the club instead of driving to it. Takes about twenty minutes and gives my cardiovascular system a small nudge in the right direction. Before Covid, my sessions with Robert began at 8am; a respectable start time that lets me walk to the gym in the morning light.

Covid changed all that. First the club closed. Then it was open. Then it was closed. Then it was sort of open, with restrictions that seemed to change twice daily. Robert also had his own health issues that limited his ability to entertain me on a regular basis. Things changed.

I now start training at 7. My walk to the gym begins in darkness and ends in the dim morning light. The first 10 minutes are a thrilling adventure as I stare down at the ground and strain to see what is underfoot. My mind sends me the message, “Watch out, be careful.”

At those times I am reminded of my brother Irv who, like our father, suffered the genetically delivered curse of macular degeneration. I recall walking with Irv when every step brought him closer to a fall. I see him hesitate as he puts one foot in front of the other. I watch him use the toe of his shoe as though it were a cane, probing the next step as though there was a deep chasm in front of him that might send him off the cliff into oblivion. At times like that, I remember thinking, “Poor guy, how frustrating this must be for him.”

Now I’m getting a taste of it, and it makes me feel old. In addition to obstacle avoidance, labels with small print taunt me; surely no one other than Lilliputians can read them. I try to decipher them with my bifocals. Failing that, I try it without glasses. Then I repeat the options without success. Excuses for banging into furniture on my way to bed, like the absence of a full moon, no longer cut it. Thinking that cataract surgery on my left eye will improve things is a fool’s paradise. I probe with my toe, just like my brother did.

Unlike Dracula, I long for the sunrise and try to complete my foraging before dark. Starting a morning hike at 6 is no longer possible. So, like yesterday, when Jackie was already on her way to body management in Montecito, I suited up and began a solo trek just after dawn.

I told Jackie that my plan was to walk through the less challenging Arbolada; a moderate grade trip through residential neighborhoods. Predictable, safe and ambulance friendly. I promised to take my cellphone, since screaming help into the thin air at that time of the morning would only antagonize the neighbors.

Ten minutes into the hike I changed my plans. I felt strong, my aging left knee had not yet offended me, and I was ready for sterner stuff. Shelf Road beckoned and, macho-like, I took the challenge.

Reaching Shelf Road requires a quarter mile jaunt up Signal Street, a thoroughfare that looks benign. Uphill all the way, lungs expand and contract at the speed of hummingbird wings. Heartbeats are no longer separated by intervals; they are, like a firehose, streaming nonstop.

Reaching the beginning of the Shelf Road trail would normally be cause for celebration, but I’m much too busy reorganizing my body into a more coherent machine; one that bears some resemblance to what it was like when I began this death march.

The trail is wide and seems to be continuously uphill. Its composition is shale-like with bits of ankle-twisting rocks thrown in to encourage me to keep my eyes on the road. On a weekday at 7, there are a few hikers with a lot of annoying dogs who seem to enjoy adding another obstacle in my path.

At the half-way mark there are two benches that can give one respite and provide a view of the Valley. I came upon the benches, occupied by a young couple in serious conversation. I waved without panache and mumbled the obligatory, “Good morning. Nice day isn’t it?”

Without waiting for a detailed response, I cruised past them and said soundlessly, “I’m proud of myself. Didn’t die on Signal Street and made it half-way up the trail. The rest is a piece of cake. Home for coffee in thirty.”

As though god hated braggards, I was mightily smitten by the lord for my brashness. The toe of my right shoe clipped the top of a stone which, I am sure, was placed there by an elf for that very purpose. I hurtled forward without a nanosecond of hesitation and found myself laying prone on the trail.

The bench couple ran to me and, believing that I was an old guy without much sense, helped me to my feet and began exploring my body. Normally, inspection by a young woman would be welcomed; however, the blood emanating from my several cuts and bruises put me off.

The inspection concluded without discovery of broken bones, torn ligaments or bleeding that couldn’t be stopped with the application of the three pieces of Kleenex that constitute my first-aid kit.

One of the bloody tissues was nestled between my hat and my scraped skull. Looking like that fife player marching in the painting of The Spirit of 1776, I completed my trek home, washed the blood off my body, and applied several dozen band-aids. I looked a bit like the mummy in the Boris Karloff picture of the same name.

The following day I told Robert my story. He carefully studied my wounds and added shame to my physical woes. He pronounced me a lazy foot dragger. Insisting that I had to learn to lift my feet higher brought on a new series of exercises that consist largely of my stumbling over obstacles he put in my path; much like the dogs did on Shelf Road. Except I was paying for this indignity.

Think I’ll go for a walk…before it gets dark.


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