I worked for minimum wage when it was pegged at $1.60 per hour. One summer at Szabo Foods, I made $12.80 per day or about $278 per month before deductions. Of course, our monthly payments for a car ($60) and a one bedroom apartment rental ($150) were also low by today’s standards. Luckily my wife earned around $400 a month which allowed us to eat an unhealthy diet, pay my tuition, and buy gas. Car repairs were a disaster and we shopped at thrift stores for clothes. During the school semesters, I only worked ten hours a week for a grand total of $16. We could not afford children. When our income rose, we had three sons and realized too late that we would never be able to afford children. Our families lived on the West Coast and we lived in Virginia, so we missed three Thanksgivings and Christmases and proximity freebies. Before leaving Seattle, we could at least swipe food from parental freezers. But we were young, in love, and happy. As I reflect on current minimum wage debates, I am appalled at historical flaws in human logic. If you do not accept a religion that teaches loving your neighbor, we will burn you at the stake. We must continually go to war and even wipe out cities with atom bombs so we can all live in peace. Slavery is necessary or the economic system will collapse and everyone will starve. A living wage would bankrupt businesses and spread unemployment. We can justify the most awful things with rationalizations and reductions to the absurd. No premise is too ridiculous if it favors the people who are more equal than others. We all want to be rewarded for hard work but the hardest work, like picking cotton, is usually done by the most unrewarded people.
I recently upgraded my printer because I need quality prints for my photo projects. This is amusing because I do not even post photos on my Blog. My photoshopping technique is using a scissors to cut out someone’s head from a photo where they look good and tape it over a lesser shot of them that would diminish an otherwise excellent group picture. I often get comments like, “I never realized that Ryan has such a small head.” Or: “Wow, Matt’s head is huge.” But it can be very satisfying when the sizing is perfect. I started the practice decades ago when I noticed my boss Bob had replaced the head of a disfavored son-in-law in a family photo with the head of Mike Hendon from Training. Bob had his large office plastered with photos, including a group shot of white males celebrating a contract signing. The lack of diversity is startling now but at the time what caught my eye was my head with pursed lips had been covered with my own smiling face. I was impressed that Bob wanted me to look better because my copy of the original photo is good enough to still hang on my den wall, especially since pursed lips in my 40’s look better than a smile in my 70’s. So I carry on the tradition, although eyes of the beholders vary greatly. I once framed a picture of my Mother, a niece, and myself taken at a luncheon by a professional photographer. All three of us looked terrific. Mom also displayed the photo at her house but she had cut herself out of it! Apparently I inherited primitive photoshopping talents from her. I removed the copy of the photo from my wall but refuse to attack it with a scissors.
Complaining is one of those human inalienable rights. I think that is documented in the Declaration of Independence or maybe the Magna Carta. When I was young, I found it easy to exercise my right to complain about weather, traffic, products, co-workers, neighbors, relatives, and politicians. I did not spend too much time complaining about poverty, hunger, and war. Mostly I directed complaints in those arenas directly to the politicians who I blamed for not solving those problems. After I retired, I was able to trade co-worker complaints for emerging complaints about medical issues. Aging has also given me some new perspectives about problems beyond my control. Instead of complaining about foul weather and snarled traffic, I should be singing about my good fortune on the days when weather and traffic are good and then just ignore the bad days. Another perspective: I am a bad driver, annoying neighbor, and the relative causing problems. In essence, I have been complaining about myself for decades.
My parents were married 75 years ago today although neither one of them are around for an earthly celebration. They made it past their 59th Anniversary but then Dad left to investigate the afterlife. But they are here in their four living children, 14 grandchildren, and about as many great grandchildren. So you do not just pack up and exit this earth. You leave legacies. But you cannot control your legacy. Sure, my children may begrudgingly honor my Will which directs that all proceeds from my estate be used to finance statues of myself. But the grandchildren could eventually destroy the statues because I cannot control human being legacies. People change and societies evolve. No matter how fashionable statues of me are today, some crazy future may discover that bronze causes cancer, attracts cannibalistic aliens, or melts in the latter stages of global warming. What does my wife think of my statue plan? I guess I will find out when this Blog posts and she gets off the phone with our lawyer. Maybe I will need to include her on a joint statue. What’s the big deal anyway? Bronze goes for over two dollars per pound, so it can be converted into cash and invested in a movie about me. The possibilities are endless. What would my parents think about the statues? First, they would assume I was joking even though they would not be laughing. Second, they would tell my family to relax because I never do what I say. I claimed I would never get married and here I am within eight years from hitting a 59th Anniversary. And I think bronze is the traditional gift for 59th Anniversaries.
Last summer a Stick Library appeared in Pinehurst Pocket Park in Seattle with sanded and polished sticks for dogs. The sticks were not meant to be used in the pocket park which is not an off leash area. They are offered like books at Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods everywhere. For a couple of years, humans have dabbled with stick libraries around the world but the trend was featured in national news segments this past week. As with many ideas, the first person who implements the concept is not the one to take it viral. You now need to act fast if you want to be a leader in the stick library movement. It likely will not be as popular as Little Free Libraries because a book exchange provides a more efficient mutual two way trade. A stick library is more limited to generous providers and thankful users, like water dishes left in public areas for pets. I expect users will not actually be in the business of trading their used sticks for used sticks from others. But I am actually not legally allowed to Blog about dogs because I have never owned a dog. So what do I know? I am mostly intoxicated with the idea of getting on television or in print by inventing the next free library trend. I am thinking of photo swaps. I offer old photographs that are redundant and/or feature unknown family members but which are emotionally difficult to trash. Then you trade your old photos which I and others will find easy to dump after a few moments of amusement. If this trend catches on, we can broaden the exchange to include ticket stubs, recipes, old calendars, and love letters from my wife’s ex-boyfriend.
Last Wednesday, I showered before my morning appointment for a second Pfizer vaccination. I normally do not discuss showering details but I discovered a bandage on my upper left arm. I was shocked to realize it had been living there for 26 days, ever since my first vaccination. Why had I not noticed it before? The most logical explanation would be that I had not showered in almost four weeks. My friends could believe that. But my wife is still alive. Her eyesight has diminished to the point I no longer need to comb my hair, but her sense of smell has grown keener. I love her for who she is but she only loves the clean version of me. The small bandage blended with my skin and was difficult to peel off. I need some of those Band-Aids that the University of Washington Medical Center uses. The adhesive was like Super Glue. Generic ones I buy at the dollar store never stick. I am told to apply greasy antibiotic on wounds so they do not become infected. But then one side of a bandage on my face will slip and dangle while I am interfacing with the public. I was relieved to find the vaccination bandage in time to avoid questions about what it was still doing on my arm. I probably would have panicked and invented an explanation that the injection site was still bleeding. The vaccinator did not even see my left arm this time. I offered my more valuable right limb. I hope she affixed the bandage securely because with no impending appointments, I am determined to break the Guinness World Record for bandage longevity set by that guy who died of gangrene a couple years ago.
Politicians are especially good at declaring victories. Too bad they are so often premature. President Bush famously celebrated “Mission Accomplished” when it was far from accomplished. Donald Trump told us we were “turning the corner” while he led us off a cliff. After a month in office, President Biden declares that “America is back!” I look around and everything seems the same. I am an untrained and uncertified teacher still helping homeschool two grandchildren and they are suffering for it. Third grader Zofia has not been allowed inside a classroom for a year. The latest winter storms have devastated the country. I am sure Texans are not ecstatic to be told America is back. Our Senate is split 50-50. We are only in extra innings. Minds have not been changed on whether an insurrection at the Capitol is patriotic or treasonous. Minds have not been changed on whether or not school shootings are just collateral damage in the fight to preserve weaponry at all cost. The racial divide has not been bridged. The death toll from Covid-19 is passing one half million, even with Governor Cuomo undercounting. We are still wearing masks. Peaks Frozen Yogurt and Beth’s Cafe are closed. I have not been on an airplane or in a movie theater for a year. Sure we changed who gets to ceremoniously sign Executive Orders. But have we resolved the issues of Immigration Reform and Climate Control? I guess America is back if we mean back in the same old mess. At least Joe Biden did not shout “America is back” from the balcony of the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun. But I am back to being sick of political posturing, spin, and slogans. Show us an America that is back and then tell us how you did it in your memoir.
I am reading Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The first sentence on the book jacket tells the reader that Toby Fleishman and his wife have separated. My wife Mollie could not gag her way past the first ten percent of the novel, so I am reading it because: (1) maybe I can give her insights to impress her Book Club in a few days; and (2) if she hates the book, presumably I would love it. I do not but I have pinpointed her problem. My wife would hate the Clint Eastwood movie The Unforgiven because she needs stories with a hero or heroine. If everyone is flawed or unlovable, she has no interest because I provide ample opportunity for her to love a flawed character on a daily basis. She hated Gone Girl and The War of Roses. Mollie always takes the woman’s side in any divorce so will definitely not be sympathetic to me if we split up. No surprise that she hated Toby right off the bat. His viewpoint dominates the early narrative but my wife could not stomach Toby’s spouse either. Mollie would never understand the Fleishman book because Toby is a sympathetic character in the beginning but she hates him anyway. Spoiler alert. So how is she going to get the twist when the wife, the female narrator/classmate of Toby, and the female author all collaborate to introduce additional information and dominate the different perspective later in the novel? My wife saw through Toby the whole time and thus spoiled the punchline. On one of our first dates, Mollie startled me when she said she could see right through me like a piece of cellophane. I wondered why she said cellophane instead of glass. Perhaps she saw the future wrinkled version of me.
Since second grade, my nine year old granddaughter has loved reading middle grade horror mystery books. As she gets older, this becomes more appropriate as the target audience is apparently 8-12 year olds. Last year she enjoyed shocking her teacher and classmates with her reading choices. Students can choose their own books but are required to provide weekly status and book reports. She is currently reading Shadow House by Dan Poblocki. I read with her. We are on Chapter 27 of 38. The best part is the vocabulary she is developing by reading books that are also aimed at slightly older children. The odd part is that Zofia has always been too afraid to go downstairs alone in our house. She invents excuses for others to accompany her because she knows she has no logical reason for this behavior. The fear of being alone has long predated the books. Instead of causing the fear, horror stories in fact seem to provide therapy. We keep up a running commentary as we read. We mock the characters who inevitably enter obviously unsafe places and then always find a reason to split up when they are most vulnerable. Everybody laughs at movies where those in danger decide to separate but that is exactly what my sister-in-law and I did when we got lost on Mount Adams back in 2005. It was a mistake and we wonder to this day what we were thinking. Is there a human instinct that somehow demands separation when danger is the greatest? Or is the world divided into rational people and dummies like me who panic under pressure? If so, why have the dummy lines not died out?
Procrastination is not all bad. I learned at work that taking no action often led to the problem going away one way or another. The pandemic has allowed me time to tackle the projects on my to-do list. I have scratched off many actions and not because I did them. The item to “fix cracked windshield” is moot because I long ago traded in the vehicle with its unfixed window. The plan to “buy tricycle” is unnecessary now that my nine year old granddaughter is riding a bike. I guess she did not really need a trike. I was going to resume searching for a proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem that no three positive whole numbers solve the equation x to the nth power + y to the nth power = z to the nth power for n greater than 2. Pierre de Fermat posed the proposition around 1637, but I thought I could do better than mathematicians who failed to prove it if I could disprove it with one example that worked. While fiddling with numbers to the fifth power, I discovered that Andrew Wiles had already solved Fermat’s enigma and published a Final Proof in 1995. This demonstrates how long items linger on my to-do list and how procrastination saves time and effort. If you wait long enough, someone else will do the dishes, launder the clothes, and take out the garbage. I was disturbed when I stumbled on my wife’s to-do list with the item: “Dump the hubby.” Luckily she is a bigger procrastinator than me and will never find where I hid her list.