Wednesdays were early release days back when my grandchildren actually attended school. The Pool down the block usually opens in early May. When the temperature hit 70 last Wednesday, we would have followed a longstanding ritual of walking down to swim. I would dog paddle a few laps while the kids played in the water. I mourned that lost opportunity, knowing full well that bigger tragedies in the world deserved that mourning. My eight year old granddaughter has been looking forward to a summer like last year when her East Coast cousins visited for forty days. They spent three weeks at Drama Camp together and swam most every day. Will the cousins come this summer? Is Drama cancelled? Will the Pool stay closed? I was reminded of my lost summer when I turned 15, bedridden with a mild case of rheumatic fever while my siblings attended the World Fair and explored Seattle (we had moved from Milwaukee in June). But what did I lose? Two summers later, I overheard my Mother tell Dad that I did not yet need a real job (more than a paper route or dog sitting for neighbors) because I had lost that one summer. So I regained the time when I had new friends to enjoy it with. The following summer Dad arranged full time jobs for my younger brother and me at Szabo Foods doing cafeteria work and washing dishes at the Boeing Renton plant. When my twice a day penicillin prescription remained in effect through college, I was classified IY and exempted from military service. So I gained much more than another summer while many classmates made bigger sacrifices. The lesson: Wait until the end of life when the final score is posted before wasting too much time complaining or gloating.
Back in the 1990’s my friend and work colleague Jon in Wichita sometimes summed up messes we found ourselves wallowing in with the words: “Oh well.” I took it to mean that I could obsess all I wanted over something gone wrong but he was going to take the disappointment and move on. The phrase could be annoying if I was already cranky about something that seemed important to me. Maybe Jon only used the words with me because I do remember he thought I over analyzed things. Or perhaps he was not even listening to me and accidentally sang out loud the title words in the Fleetwood Mac song playing in his mind. But mostly his “oh well” input put my petty concerns into perspective. I know this even better now because I cannot specifically recall the exact situations where he applied those words. Rarely can I get my wife to adopt an “oh well” attitude. If I surprise her on her birthday by purging her personal possessions, I do not expect praise but she goes straight to “oh hell no.” The other day she learned from an unreliable source that the majority of the 100 Governors support the President’s plan to pardon citizens convicted of demeaning, injuring, or killing those fitting the BAD profile of being Black, Alive, and Detested. OH HELL NO.
I have noticed that television ads for drugs like Ozempic and Dupixen are adding the disclaimer to not take the drug if you are allergic to it. This seemed self evident, so I wondered how this could be a big problem. Are people clamoring to take medication they are allergic to? So without research, my own theory evolved that this must be a legal attempt to create a protective syllogism: “If you take our drug and get injured and are harmed by it, you must be allergic to the medicine. We told you not to take the drug if you were allergic to it. Therefore you and your doctor are negligent and we are not.” I could be wrong because I am a cynic who always looks for the worst possible motive. But I also used to get paid for creating faulty syllogisms and numbing people with tautologies. Therefore, I must be right. Do not read my Blog if you are allergic to it.
A recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek included a section of recommended gift ideas for 2020 graduates. This is useful in a year when Seniors are getting shortchanged on celebrating their achievements. Under the heading For Mindful Shapers of Great Minds, a Hermes sorter ($930) is recommended as an “understated treasure.” I would not describe it as a treasure (you can google it) but understated is a good adjective for whatever it is. The sorter has two slots of less than an inch and is otherwise 9×6 inches of mahogany with a small rectangle of decorative taurillon leather. The real selling point according to the Bloomberg feature: “A teacher-to-be needs a place to store his graded papers.” It looks like a very inefficient place to store graded papers, even assuming you have a small class, as the papers would be flopping over the front panels that are considerably shorter than the six inch backside. But more importantly, what recent grad headed for a teacher’s job and pay wants a $930 dollar ornamental desk trinket? Send the graduate a check for $1000 bucks if you have that much to spend. The recipient is going to get so much less than that on eBay. Or at least send a card and check with the understated treasure. I am famous for gifting cheap and inappropriate presents, so it should be a red flag if I am gagging on this selection. I do admit to sending copies of the novel Suicide Squeeze to graduates but that is because giving the cash equivalent of $12.95 seems even worse.
Spoiler Alert: Hampstead is the 2017 movie inspired by Harry the Hermit who gained adverse possession rights to a half acre site in Hampstead Heath. The Heath is to London what Central Park is to New York. The fictional Donald Horner (Brendan Gleeson) is based on Harry Hallowes who occupied the land in 1987 after being evicted from his flat. Horner/Hallowes survived doing odd jobs. In the movie, Horner had lived on the land for 17 years when he received a favorable verdict on his claim. Hallowes legally obtained title in 2007 when he was about 71 years old. The movie and newspapers speculated the land was worth millions but it only fetched 154,000 UK pounds after Hallowes died in 2016 (land use restrictions diminished value for developers). Hallowes left the proceeds to two charities for the homeless. Horner fared better in the movie because he sold for more money and won the heart of a fictional widow (Diane Keaton) from the upper side of the tracks. I wonder how many people have been inspired by romanticized tales to become hermits or travel alone in the wilderness. How many are never found (Lillian Ailing, Everett Ruess?). The North Pond Hermit, Christopher Thomas Knight, entered the Maine wilderness at age 20 for no specific reason and was apprehended 27 years later for committing about a thousand burglaries of unoccupied cabins and camps with only two minor incidents of human contact. More Spoiler Alerts: The adventures of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) and Carl McCunn ended even worse. I recommend the movie Hampstead over these other more compelling and acclaimed hermit accounts. I know I gave away the Hampstead story but you need guaranteed fluff and a happy ending when you are social distancing in a pandemic.
My brother Jamie used to tell me Johnny Carson and Bill Gates were sending him messages through the television. I thought he might be crazy but at least he was not hearing from Jim Jones or Charles Manson. Carson and Gates actually kept Jamie out of trouble by warning him to stay away from airplanes and computers. But now I am hearing the television voices. Sean recounts how his wife puts on gloves and washes each grocery item with Clorox while he waves a crucifix over the food and chants in Latin. The President tells me to drink the Clorox, get on airplanes, and go to Church. Dr. Fauci says to add a grain of salt to the Clorox until we have a vaccine for Clorox poisoning in December. Meanwhile, I am not hearing Joe Biden’s voice but the media says he is floating the idea of picking Rosalynn Carter as his running mate. So somebody is crazy. It might be me. For sure, I owe Jamie an apology for thinking he was crazy. Clearly we finally found the weapons of mass destruction Colin Powell misplaced earlier in this century. My parents told Jamie and me to turn off the television and go outside. We should have listened because the television voices are telling me to get the children off the IPad and cell phone and back inside on the computer for homeschooling.
I overheard the word “flannelgraph” and could not place it. I thought my Sunday School teacher might have been Mrs. Flannelgraph but then I remembered I did not attend Sunday School. I played Kickball with the neighborhood pagan kids. I thought maybe a flannelgraph might be the machine that played flannelgraph recordings of Bible stories. But that does not sound right either. After the Sunday Kickball cheating scandals, I began watching football and baseball games on television. But Sunday sports have been replaced by televised religious services which I now watch while thinking about how I could best use a wonderful word like flannelgraph. It would make a great name for a child, a band, or a character on the Simpsons. Or maybe a new board game where the players compete to best flatten the curve and postpone the extinction of the human race. Flannelgraph could become the name of the drawings Donald Trump makes to explain the rerouting of hurricanes, military parades, and viruses. It would be a terrific Secret Service code name. I hate the internet because I just know googling is going to spoil all the flannelgraph fun.
Four people I know well have been victims of the Employment Security Department (ESD) scam where thieves file for unemployment benefits under someone else’s identity. KOMO News in Seattle reported that a Nigerian gang is suspected of spearheading this swindle. Possibly they are trying to make President Trump look bad by driving up the unemployment numbers. Or maybe they are just trying to get richer as if they did not already make enough money filing fake income tax returns to grab our refunds. My wife started the procedure to determine if anyone opened an unemployment claim in her name. The first thing ESD asked for was her social security number. She says she temporarily aborted the inquiry because she has been trained not to give out her SSN. I am guessing she cannot remember her number. She probably lost her social security card because she keeps looking in the refrigerator for something. When we were students, we gained the Freshman 15, now we are gaining the Covid 19. I have mixed feelings about losing my identity. I am a little weary of being a narcissist and would not mind someone taking over that identity for awhile. I have also not had a colonoscopy for 17 years and I think a medical warrant has been issued in my name. I hope they nab my impersonator and clean out his colon. With my luck, he will test positive for a brain tumor and they will find me for that operation. I am fairly certain an impostor is actually writing this posting because I do not remember being this funny.
My wife waited in line for thirty minutes last Sunday morning to donate our Covid-19 purge to the Woodinville Goodwill. Some people wonder what trash we are inflicting on non profits and charities if the stuff we keep to furnish and fill our house would be rejected by those recyclers. But our possessions are still with us precisely because they have already been rejected. I am even embarrassed by trips to the dump. I tell the cashier that I just emptied out Grandma Hoarder’s place. So, ironically, we actually donate better stuff than we keep. I can prove this by official IRS documents that include itemized deductions on Schedule A of our Income Tax filings. You can trust those numbers because charitable tax write-offs are so difficult to fudge. Who would stoop to exaggerating their generosity anyway? Goodwill actually puts much of our stuff into salvage streams for items they do not sell retail. They have reportedly earned hundreds of millions of dollars by selling in bulk to textile or other salvage vendors. You can forgive some people who mistake their trash for treasure. And maybe dumping useless materials on Goodwill or the Salvation Army is better than littering on the side of the road or abandoning on public lands. Unfortunately, the people who bag up their household garbage and sneak it past non profit and charity intake filters are not going to stop that onerous practice just because someone says they should not do it. The culprits already know that when they drop junk after hours or disguise it by double bagging. And I know they do not care. But I have my own failings, like an addiction to issuing public disapprovals that allow me to self congratulate.
You never want to be in a plague. Especially if people think you caused it. We inject some glamour into certain wars when noble heroes triumph over mighty forces of evil whether they survive, die, or return wounded. Plagues are more difficult to glamorize when triggered by rats, bats, and gnats who go about their business with nary a plan for ruling the planet and enslaving the enemy. Books, movies, statues, and holidays celebrate those who fall on the battlefield. Such heroes are often young and in their prime. If you catch a virus in a nursing home and die on a ventilator, you get your moment but you will not be remembered like the Alamo. I read about the Spanish Flu and the bubonic plagues, including the Black Death, but only the Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg, Alsace, actually grabbed my attention. Just the thought of me being infected in a Dancing Plague triggers an anxiety attack. My friend Scott liked double dating with me to school dances because I made him look so good he was voted Best Dancer in our graduating class. Seven other outbreaks of dancing plague erupted in Medieval times, mostly along the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Later scholars have blamed food poisoning from the same ergot fungus that has been implicated in the craziness that led to the Salem witch trials. The dancing plagues could also have been induced by psychogenic movement disorder. Starvation, disease, and despair were rampant and could theoretically have caused elevated levels of psychological stress and mass hysteria. Hopefully we will not get the chance to further study this phenomenon any time soon.