Have you ever wondered how to get the best possible nutrition in the smallest possible volume? Well people who send astronauts into Outer Space have. Now you can get astronaut technology with The Survival Tabs which have a shelf life of 25 years. The packets gifted to my family are particularly potent because they are stamped with a 26 year shelf life: Best if used by 12/2046. I will be 99 then, so that is a lifetime guarantee. Especially since I routinely consume food past “best to use by” dates. The Survival Tabs are promoted as “ideal in situations such as being lost or stranded where sufficient food sources are not available.” My entire life has been dedicated to avoiding such situations, no matter how much of a wimp that makes me. But that wimpiness means that I will definitely carry these packets on my future hikes. Each little tab provides “100% of the daily essential vitamins and minerals required to maintain your body’s physical functions” with just 240 calories. Apparently it takes about 2000 calories on a regular diet to maintain the same dexterity, stamina, and coordination. The product is scary to me because I like to eat actual food, although I am not coordinated no matter how much I eat. I would rather be on a program that offers the largest amount of real food possible to get to 2000 calories. Unfortunately, I would probably get sick of eating celery, broth, and cucumbers. In fact, I am not sure if they are considered real food. I am also worried people will go on Survival Tab diets and encounter side effects like zero gravity. And what about people like me who open a bag of anything and unconsciously keep popping the contents in our mouths? I would probably overdose on vitamins and minerals.
In 1979, my Dad gave me a $500 bill for running a Marathon. It was easy money because he and I were already deep into training for our first Marathon when he offered all his children $500 if they ran one. Three of my siblings eventually did. I do not know if they got $500 bills. The bills were hard to come by. I think they had been discontinued a decade earlier. At any rate, it was a grand gesture and I kept it for awhile. But my wife and I bought our first home and we went from paying $275 per month in rent to a $500.18 mortgage. We lived paycheck to paycheck, so I deposited it in my checking account. I never took a ceremonial picture with it. The bills are only worth something like $650-$850 today so I did not blow an investment opportunity. You could invest $500 in 1979 in almost anything and come out further ahead. After 13 years, we sold that house for over double what we paid for it even after running it into the ground. Partly I was afraid of having anything in our home worth $500. I would not dare hang it on the wall. The boys would play Monopoly with it or borrow it to buy candy. If I hid it, we might lose it or accidentally throw it out. What would be the point of paying for a safety deposit box to keep it in? When I was a teenager, I experienced losses of my silver quarter collection and the cigar Mr. Agostino awarded me for winning an essay contest. So I learned early the burden of having valuables. But I would take the risk now. It would be harder to run a Marathon at my age but for a $500 bill, I might give it a try.
Although technologically inept, I have managed to post a Blog every day for well over four years. Sure, I inadvertently publish some embarrassing rough drafts and it takes a desperate eternity to unpost them. My monkey brain never remembers the keystrokes required to correct the mistake. So I have not documented emergency instructions on an index card to tape next to the ones explaining how to turn on my computer, retrieve messages from my phone, and log into idiotsanonymous.com. I think I accidentally ordered a takeout sandwich from Paneras while trying to remove a premature Blog on Christmas Eve. I have published posts a month in the past, scheduled two for the same day, and still fail to utilize some free WordPress features. For years, I was unable to add a picture to my Blog logo. I would occasionally try uploading random photos people send me but this would always prompt the WordPress message: “Hmm, uploading failed, try again.” I may have misquoted the exact words because when I tried to provoke that message last month for a Blog, I accidentally uploaded a picture. I am happy previous attempts failed. The picture where I am standing in front of a friend’s tricked out motorcycle was embarrassing because I was actually afraid to even sit on it. The one with me holding a Hearts Trophy was not phony but a weird brag. The current one while hiking is okay because readers do know from my posts the reality: I am afraid of heights, crawl across bridges, and “hike” down steep trails by sliding on my rear end. Of course, my logo may soon be updated with a moldy Panera sandwich sitting on a takeout shelf because I think that is an appropriate and very hip idea.
It feels like President Trump served two terms. He was President-Elect in 2016 and reigned as President in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and eventually part of 2021. That is a total of six calendar years his Presidency has touched. In many ways, nothing much has changed. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union but Brexit seems ongoing. The Mexicans have still not paid for a Southern Border Wall. Obamacare is still around. Rafael Nadal won his tenth French Open in 2017 and has been the defending champion ever since. Mitch McConnell has been the Senate Republican leader since 2005 and I think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been around since before Pearl Harbor. In December 2016, a study found the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus 70-100% effective, making it the first proven vaccine against the disease. Three years later, rVSV-EBOV was approved for medical use in the United States about the time all attention shifted to finding a Coronavirus vaccine. No vaccine has yet been discovered to eradicate racial injustice, school shootings, and sexual harassment. We are still in the phase of debating whether we want such vaccines. In 1980, the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics because Russia invaded Afghanistan. Eventually the Russians withdrew and turned the War in Afghanistan over to the Americans who have been unable to withdraw. Meanwhile, the Olympics were postponed in 2020. On December 22, 1916, I posted a Blog entitled Butterflies that credited Zhuang Zhou (aka Zhuangzi) with a fourth century B.C. quote that he dreamed he was a butterfly happily fluttering hither and thither. When he awoke, he did not know whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly or whether he was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man. I have been fluttering hither and thither ever since.
My nine year old granddaughter Zofia recently read me Santa’s Toy Shop, my favorite Little Golden Book as a child. Santa is so busy making toys all year that he never gets to play with any of them. Mrs. Claus suggests he play with the toys at his last stop. Could it be your house? I always liked the pictures of the toy departments and how the elves were so tiny. On page two, Mrs. Claus is baking gingerbread cookies and is introduced as the person who “keeps house for Santa Claus and all the elves.” Zofia got stuck on that phrase, reading it over and searching for a missed word or mispronunciation. I explained that the book was written in 1950 when “housewife” was considered a more universal term. Zofia thought being married to a house was an hysterical concept. I was surprised that the 1978 edition of the book did not substitute terms like “homemaker” or “stay-at-home-mom.” Zofia’s friends have moms who work outside the home, so actually all those concepts are foreign to her. Her best friend’s mom is a doctor. Zofia’s dad met her mom when she was his boss at Pharmaca. Mrs. Claus is not even a mom in the book, unless the elves are considered her children. Each department has about ten of them and we noticed they all appear to be male. This raises more questions but modern times provide one answer: elves are just another gender. I realized that Mrs. Claus looked pretty good now that she is younger than me. She definitely is not eating what she feeds Santa and may be exercising with the elves who were pictured on skis. After getting through Santa’s Toy Shop, Zofia and I were too exhausted to read any other books.
My wife and I awoke alone in the house on Christmas morning. No one else was stirring, not even a mouse. This should be normal in a pandemic. But we have been in a core six person circle of germs due to work and school exigencies. That group seemed so small on Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, July 4th, two birthdays, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. When we add a nephew to the mix once a week, neighbors may think us too casual about Covid-19 precautions. But here we are strictly quarantined on Christmas while others take more risk during the holidays. Often my wife and I do not make conscious decisions. We just go with the flow like driftwood and hope we land somewhere in one piece. Wichita was somewhere for six years. We are only alone now because our youngest son’s family is visiting Aunt Lula several hours south of here. When they return, we will again interact with them daily only because we do not have a better idea. So often our actions are not driven by absolute rights or wrongs. We generally obey the law but will drive five or ten miles over the speed limit depending on circumstances, like whether a police car is in the next lane. We pledge to sin no more but situations will entice my selfishness, meanness, and loss of temper before the rooster crows in the New Year. We woke up well rested on December 25th and could do anything we wanted. My wife wanted a peek at what our neighborhood looks like on a Christmas morning when she is not preparing brunch for twenty people. Starbucks was closed. This was disappointing but not surprising. We just like hoping for Christmas miracles.
I am not a Bible scholar and never belonged to a Bible study group. I write about topics where I have no expertise because I have not yet developed any expertise in anything. I did attend Catholic schools from kindergarten through college where we memorized passages from Shakespeare but not the Bible. Sometimes I do not read a book if I can experience it in a theater. Some of my schools required daily Mass, so presumably I have at least heard the most important passages many times over. The Bible is an amazing document with the length and diversity to allow interpretations supporting most anything. An eye for an eye. Turn the other cheek. Like the United States Constitution, the Bible is cited by people with wildly opposing views. I was listening to a reading from the first chapter of Luke where the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah the good news that his wife will bear a son. Zechariah made the mistake of asking, “How will I know this? I am an old man. My wife too is advanced in age.” For not trusting the words coming from God, Gabriel broke the bad news that Zechariah would be struck mute until after the birth. A few verses later, Gabriel tells Mary she would also bear a son. Mary replied, “How can this be since I do not know man?” She was not muted for her doubt as Gabriel patiently explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. Maybe Luke did not capture the past history, exact words, subtle inflections, or body language involved in the two incidents. Maybe Gabriel was told to stop muting people. Scholars could reconcile the words for me but I am not asking any questions. I am cool with whatever Gabriel says.
One common theme as we approach New Year’s Day is good riddance to 2020 and an assumption that 2021 can only be better. I understand the sentiment but it depends on your personal viewpoint. From a health perspective, I did not get sick or die from Covid-19 in 2020 but I could in 2021. No one in my family died and I did not have any funerals I had to miss for friends. I oppose Donald Trump politically. Almost half the country votes for him, so 2020 was a low point for them and him. And 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 were the agonizing years for me. I am retired so I did not lose a job but many others did. My environment did not change but California has been scorched with firestorms over the last five years. So my outrage at 2020 must be based on the volume of world suffering rather than personal or selfish considerations. But I have a difficult time quantifying that for comparison purposes. In 2017, my mother and brother died a month apart and Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico. In 2018, the Trump Administration adopted an immigration policy that caged children and separated them from parents. In 2004, my son Dustin got married and yet it was my worst year ever as personal issues overwhelmed me more than Hurricanes Charley, Ivan, and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The CIA admitted no threat from weapons of mass destruction existed before the Iraq invasion the previous year, Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse was revealed, an American contractor was beheaded on video, and we were at war in Afghanistan. Many like me were not focused on racial injustice. But 2004 was pandemic free and Lord of The Rings won 11 Oscars. I do not believe in universal good or bad years.
Determining when to be insulted is an exhausting job. If I get priority for a vaccine because I am deemed high risk, I will be insulted that I am considered old and decrepit. But if I am relegated to the back of the line, I will be offended that I am not important enough to receive the best possible health care immediately. Likewise, if I am excused from jury duty, I am insulted. But if I am selected to serve, I am annoyed at the inconvenience. Even when the choice is really mine, I sit back and wait to see what happens before I complain. Getting rejected for jury duty is easier than not qualifying for a library card or driver’s license. I know because I have failed to clear all three of those hurdles at one time or other. But I always find someone other than myself to blame. From the moment of my birth, I have been crying for people to feed me. But whenever I gain weight, I complain that people rudely tempt me to eat too much forbidden food. I pout if others do not like me but then I celebrate Festivus daily via my Blog, eventually alienating everyone. I just cannot confine my Airing of Grievances to December 23rd, the official day of Festivus as popularized in a Seinfeld episode. My biggest grievance is not being able to make Seinfeldian money while doing all my airing. My default position is to blame Covid-19 and hope that the virus does not retaliate against me.
None of the inns had rooms to spare. Entries on our Advent Calendar for December 17th and 18th described Mary and Joseph being turned away at four separate inns in Bethlehem. As I listened to someone read the accounts of the couple graciously and peacefully accepting their plight, I realized why my wife and I were not selected as the parents for Jesus. I would be yelling at Mollie, “I told you a million times to make reservations!” She would scream back, “If you had spent less time telling me what to do and more time finishing the carpentry job for Elizabeth, we could have left early enough to find a room!” And we both would have been taking down names and shrieking at everyone who rejected us that they were in for horrible payback after Jesus was born. We would be threatening that scores would be settled big time. So we flunked our audition. God probably sent Jesus two thousand years before our time, hoping his presence would have a more positive effect on people like us in the 21st century. Maybe things are not as bad as I think. Even when the glass is 95% full, I see it as 5% empty.