Cats & Vacations & Such

img_2022I’ve been away!! One is not supposed to neglect one’s blog, so my apologies.

Wisconsin was lovely, family and friends were the same – lovely.

GingerBaker survived another week-plus without morning petting and play, but with caring neighbors he is getting better at the “Missing Mom” events.  GB continues to impress with his chill demeanor. With treats in the offering, he even allows the occasional nail clipping. But these must be VERY GOOD TREATS.

Games with GB evolve, as it is with most cats who become slightly bored with the ‘same same’ every day. ‘Throw the fuzzy mouse’ used to be a guaranteed mad runabout, but our clever boy started getting so far ahead of the actual toss, he was running into the mouse as it arced downward – head bump!  That has unnerved him adequately that we must abandon ‘throw-mouse’ for lesser fun. Unfortunately the other of his favorites is/was laser chase. As mentioned previously, discovering that lasers can burn surfaces [!] has cut down on that delight, too. I’ve yet to replace the spotted carpeting.

So now it’s back to dreamy hot days in Florida sleeping on cushions [for GB] and for me trying to make repairs/updates on the home. Such is summer!

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Walk in My Shoes

It’s not easy to put yourself in other people’s shoes, even if you think you’ve got buckets of empathy tucked away in your soul.  I’d always thought I did well in that department. But never be too certain.

Recent news stories have me thinking back to one day in 1992, in Northern Virginia, as I was coming back home from work with a stop at the local Giant grocery store.

At the time I lived in a townhouse complex in one of those planned communities that grew like mushrooms all around Washington, D.C. during the 60s and after. Lines of nearly identical two-story homes, all attached in rows, lining courtyards of asphalt parking lots. Mine was slightly Williamsburg-ish, in a cul-de-sac of a circular drive of another cul-de-sac. It had been a handy purchase after returning from five years overseas, convenient to work but farther from the city than I’d planned. The housing market prices had increased rather dramatically during my absence, so to the suburbs I’d run.

There were families of all types  living cheek by jowl near town centers and outdoor pools, many with kids at the local schools. That day in ’92, I’d vaguely noted that two of those high-schoolers were sitting on the curb about six houses down from mine. Not unusual. As I’d set about unloading the back seat of my car, I’d set my purse on the trunk to free up my arms. It was a sunny day, warm and quiet, and I was in no hurry, a pleasant mood.

There was a bit of a laugh from the teens, so I glanced at them again, a girl and a boy, and it made me think of my after-school hangouts on days when it was really too nice to go in and start homework after the bus dropped us off. I was only in my thirties in 1992, but it still seemed a lifetime ago. The boy looked up at me, said something to the girl, and got up to walk slowly my way. I was still fussing trying to get the plastic bags settled on my arms as he walked up behind my car, then behind me between the cars where I’d parked. He didn’t seem to have a reason to be walking around, but I said howdy, and smiled. I’d wondered if he was going to offer to help me carry this stuff to my door, but he was silent. So I nodded at the bags and said, “I always buy too much when I shop hungry!” He continued around me, still saying nothing, smirked a bit, and headed back to his girlfriend who’d been watching this short one-person parade.

And then it hit me what he’d been doing. Ths young guy was black, and his cute girlfriend was white, and he’d been showing off. To this point I hadn’t given the race distinction any thought, but yeah, he’d been expecting me to grab my purse out of his reach, I realized, or pull myself out of his way. He’d been showing his friend how white people react to black people!

I had been so pissed! Damn pissed. He’d assumed I was some bigoted white woman, that I feared people of color! What a prick. I almost asked him to please come back and help me carry my purse, but I didn’t do it. Grabbing it off the trunk, I lugged my bags into the house without letting on I’d caught onto his game.

So I should be insulted, right?

Actually, after I calmed down I thought, no. This kid most likely had gotten that scared reaction he’d expected from me a million times in his young life. He’d gotten it from so many other people, so often, that he could almost guarantee his victimhood would be on display today. In his world, a world that he’d experienced so completely differently from what I knew, every white person saw skin color before they saw anything else. And they’d likely reacted to it with the suspicion and fear he’d anticipated from a young white woman driving a BMW in a fairly white neighborhood.

So the many stories in the news today, of unarmed men being treated with fear, remind me that this is still all too real. When black patrons get treated differently in a Starbucks than the white patrons, when they get suspicious looks, when they get arrested for doing what other people do who are not black, or worse are shot at and murdered owing to that bigotry and fear, that moment in Virginia plays back to me. That lesson that I learned that day is still so true, that being black here in America is not understandable to those who don’t live it. And so many of us just don’t understand how hard that is to face all the time, every day, in so many situations. Our parents didn’t have to warn us, give us the talk about being careful, how to react to being pulled over just for not being white. We’ve never been there, in those shoes, because we can’t begin to imagine what that is really like.pexels-photo-349494.jpeg

 

On the Verge of Crazy, the Kids are Alright

The title could describe so much about us, so much about America today. It certainly suits my mood for the past 17 months, and the ubiquitous questions about how the hell we got here that press on us at every news cycle.

Make no mistake, the rest of the world exists at all levels of “crazy,” it’s just that we here in the States have been able to maintain the balance tipping more toward the rule of law than toward Teapot Dome or Watergate. The corruption of good intentions, the subverting of the public good, happens everywhere you find the human race. How we manage it, how much we honor its opposite, that seems to me to be the defining factor between America and, say, Sudan, North Korea, and Russia. And like those example countries, once down the rabbit hole of self-indulgence and greed, comebacks are down a long, dark road.

So that is why, as I look down from the ledge of despair, I and so many others weep with gratitude over the hope given us by the students from Stoneman Douglas. Seeing the culture of community they embrace, the drive for fair and just laws in the face of billion-dollar PACs, I can put down the bottle of whisky, pack away for later the Xanax-laced tea, and feel good.

Our hope arrives on skateboards, carrying smart phones, and we love them.

Sleep better, my friends. We still have laws, we still have free press [blessings on all the reporters who keep us informed], and we have built into our lives an expectation that our system can reject the corruption that is swilling in the Okeefenokee we used to call the White House.

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PRIVATIZE MY ASS!

PRIVATIZATION – Such a fancy word for greed

Taking services out of the control of governments seems to be one of the stronger planks of the Republican platform these days. From street cleaning, garbage pick-up, to water and electric utilities, the cry is to get government out of “business.” Especially at the local level, the pressure is on to let corporations run your world.

What does that really mean, to privatize something? Government services are usually those that affect all citizens, such as maintaining city streets, providing clean water, ensuring parklands exist that are open to everyone. These benefits are paid for through taxes of various kinds, although utilities like water, sewer, recreation & electric all have a fee for usage that covers expenses and gives back to the whole community for other services, as well.

Private companies are able to do similar tasks, provide similar services, and many governments of all sizes can contract out part or all of these things without turning over total control of any service to free market influences. The market, unlike your elected officials, doesn’t care if your mother has cancer, or your child has special needs, or you just lost your job. It is impervious to those things, it runs solely on profit and loss considerations. Service to citizens is not on the priority list. Private companies large enough to take control of, say, a water utility are normally not locally situated in small towns and cities. Their employees and managers are not local people. Your neighbors don’t run NextEnergy mega-utilities.

Why is this desirable to the right? When I joined the political world [as a Republican], local control of government, the right of self-determination, was the standard on which most other strategy was based. Caring for democracy, for citizens’ freedom, was key. Now it seems giving power over to big business is the only goal.

For an answer, I will invoke a common phrase: Follow the money.

Buying political clout, and therefore politicians, has turned our democracy into a plutocracy. Money rules. Dollars buy ad campaigns full of empty promises. Those dollars then buy gerrymandered districting to limit – even eliminate – competition from the other party. And perhaps the emphasis that the GOP is now placing on the “I have mine, you go earn yours” philosophy has turned the political divide even more toward self preservation than to what we see as “the public good.”

I’m still with the founding fathers [most of them] on preventing the less fortunate from being disenfranchised simply owing to their bank account. [Thanks to slight prejudice about who was most qualified/educated to vote for president, Hamilton and Madison took us down the Electoral College road. Um . . . disagree.] And that includes having protections from abuses of the market in our basic needs, in my opinion. If you can’t afford clean water, should you die? If you answer ‘yes,’ please delete your account and return to the hole in which you belong. Should only the rich have smooth roads or safe bridges? Schools? Our current government is turning in that direction.

The protections for all citizens, no matter their status, rests in good government by and for the people. Keeping a steady eye and a strong hand on fairness, that is why we elect our neighbors and why we should “unelect” them if they fail. Or if they become enamored of their own profit rather than the good of the community. Which can happen. A lot.

If you’ve elected someone who starts telling you that it’s better for private business to clean and test your water because it’s cheaper, and they use lower standards, cheaper chemicals, less testing since all those things cut into profit, and because shucks THEY aren’t drinking this water, maybe take another look at your elected official. And her campaign contributions. And his private tax returns. And whether or not his kids are running the company taking over your water.

Community health versus private wealth, that friction is why we have government in the first place.  Saying that money equals free speech means the rich talk while the middle class and poor watch.

Gun control? Health care? Environmental safeguards?  Vote.  VOTE!!!!

Sunday Beaches Recalled

IMG_2048January 28, one month past Christmas, Hannukah, New Years. It’s been cold here, even in Florida, and we year-rounders revel in wrapping ourselves up in wool and down. We open the windows. But today the sun shines, a strong breeze blows, and it’s back in the 70s.

Beach walks have been good but challenging, as getting down to the actual beach from our walk-over stairs means covering about a four-foot drop from our last step. Those nor’westers have repaved the sand flat and redistributed the dunes, thus the actual walking, strolling, wading is quite nice.  The sun warms me as the wind tugs at my hat.

A small plane makes a hard turn just above me, working the engine just a little harder. The sound sends me directly to Dodgertown, spring training, blue and white uniforms everywhere. Bats cracking, balls thwacking into mitts, children hanging over the stadium railings to talk to players who graciously give a moment of joy to a small fan.

I snap back to the beach just as suddenly, staring again at the curling waves and sea foam at my feet. How delightful that feels, to have your brain grab your soul and fling it instantly into a memory so pure and complete. Dodgertown itself, which is near to our small airport, might not be such a good trigger as that airplane was, for sounds, like aromas, seem to occupy a more vibrant well of memory than algebra or a poem recited in 5th grade.

Walking along the solid flat sand, the many stranded bubbles of man-o-war sparkle intensely, blue, purple, bright pink embroidered balloons. They edge the high-tide line like ocean flowers. The wind has whipped the sea foam into drifts now, some gliding like bergs in the flat waves, some blowing like sage brush and erasing themselves against the sand.

I could be two years old. Or fifteen. Or fifty. But what I am is home.

 

Hospitals for Profit

WARNING: There is no humor in Patient Dumping, but please read on.

In spite of my desire to post amusing, humorous stories, I have been prompted to take a more serious vein once again.  I’d apologize, but I’m trying hard to give that up.

My brother Jeff Larkin lived in Houston. He had his own road, and he chose it himself, for the most part. It wasn’t a life I would have chosen, as a summary, since it included drugs, jail, and losing contact with a daughter he loved. So my Mom and I were relieved in January of 2009 when, after living in a friend’s garage for several months, he was given a Section 8 housing apartment.

Jeff’s health by this time was in serious decline, although we didn’t realize the degree of “serious” until he admitted he had liver problems. Cancer.  He subsequently told Mom that he had COPD, as well, and she had been sending him her own prescription inhalers until his Medicaid could be reinstated.

In May my Mother called me to encourage my help. I did not, and had not, spoken regularly to Jeff since I was in college. His addictions, and his subsequent scams to get money, were too much for me to take. Regular pretenses of getting help were always a sham, and I opted for tough love, something that is much more difficult for mothers to do, I should add.

So this time Mom was calling, and she knew I’d be a hard sell. Her admission that she couldn’t get Jeff to answer his phone was pretty alarming. His lifeline to home was very extraordinarily important to him. So I agreed to call and she game me the new number.

He didn’t answer my call, either, so I started leaving a message on his machine. After a minute, he picked up before I could finish recording! He sounded awful. Ghastly, to be sure. Gasping and wheezing, it was clear he could barely speak. He said he couldn’t talk [obvious] but he’d call me back. Relieved he was there, I said okay but said for him to listen for just a second. My fear for him was welling up, and I didn’t want to break the telephone link.  I told him Mom was worried, WE were worried, that Mom had updated me on his condition.  Pretty scary stuff, I said, but after hearing him talk I told him he really needed to call 9-1-1. Now. He needed to do it now. If he couldn’t breathe, he needed help immediately. I heard his labored breath, so I knew he’d heard me, so I told him I loved him and we’d talk as soon as he could manage. Hanging up was hell.

He took my advice, for maybe the second time in his life. The first was when we were babies and I told him not to stick his finger in the electric socket after he’d managed to unscrew the faceplate. He didn’t, but he got me to do it. Anyway, I reported back to my Mom and I didn’t hear anything else that day. We got online to figure out how to either get him to Florida here with us, or get to him in Texas.

The next news was that he’d passed away.

Mom said she’d gotten a call that day I’d spoken to Jeff, not from him but from Hermann Memorial Hospital in Houston. Jeff was at the ER, but they wouldn’t admit him without money up front, so they’d called her. She’d quickly given them her credit card over the phone. That was on a Monday. She waited to hear more, but nothing from the hospital. We tried to be patient, since we knew he couldn’t talk himself, and the hospital said they couldn’t confirm his admission without my mother being listed as his health surrogate. They could take her money, sure, but then they cut her off.

So she finally, on Wednesday, had tracked down one of his friends, who confirmed that Jeff was back at his apartment! Whoa, we thought, he must’ve gotten a helluva lot better pretty fast. But Jeff still didn’t answer his phone. So being a tiger mom at this point, Mom tracked down the apartment manager who kindly reported he was in his apartment but couldn’t talk on the phone, he had a friend taking care of him. Relieved people were looking after him, Mom let Thursday pass. But her call to the apartment manager on Friday revealed the truth. Jeff had passed away the night before, alone and unattended. He quite obviously had had no business leaving the hospital.

I made the trip to Houston as quickly as I could. Mom couldn’t leave my invalid father, although she really did want to come along. That entire episode is worthy of an entirely separate post for another time. Part of that discovery, however, was that Jeff’s friend said that Jeff had never been admitted to the hospital. Never. After they’d taken Mom’s payment, they’d quickly put him out to the bus stop, without a wheelchair [he couldn’t breathe much less walk] or shoes or any means to get home. Somehow someone had contacted his friend, who’d driven him home. This entire time we’d thought he was getting medical care, he was a his apartment slowly succumbing to cancer and emphysema.

Outraged, I began at first inquiring, then pestering, then uttering dire legal threats at the managers of the ER, hospital, and finally the Better Business Bureau. Since there was no fixing a death, the BBB made them return my mother’s money. Jeff had his Medicaid almost approved, and indeed the hospital had been paid for his past visits as well as the last one in the ER.

My hands are still shaking with rage and impotence that I couldn’t get there, couldn’t know how his life was ending. That he was left on the curb to the whims of chance.

If you’ve not see the Washington Post story today, January 11, 2018, about a Maryland hospital doing exactly the same thing to an indigent woman, please read this:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-captures-video-of-patient-dumping-outside-baltimore-hospital/

MERRY, INDEED!!!

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS…

SO! It’s been a few years, more than a few really, since I’ve put up a Christmas tree, decorated the house, etc. A short summary of barriers to my personal cheer.

2004: Two destructive hurricanes within three weeks of each other in September/October. Even by Christmas we were still cleaning up, and my house had boarded windows, doors while the office was still being rebuilt. We were working out of our kitchens.

Mom had her invalid husband (my Dad) plus her mostly blind mother (my grandmother ) living cheek by surly jowl in her house. Nevertheless, she still made a valiant stab at making merry. I just couldn’t muster the energy, especially since Gloria Estefan had made me persona non grata in my own hometown. Long story, but suffice to say she wanted “cooperation” on building her hotel and me being on the City Council led to a sort of Trump-Comey pas de deux. No cheer in Lynneville.

2005 – 2008: God bless serving your community, the developer kingpins in Florida set upon Vero Beach government in their continuing effort to elect compliant, loyal-to-the-$$$ candidates. They were successful! So I spent these years pouring money and energy into legal efforts to clear the refuse they’d dumped in my life.

By 2008 even dear Mom had only feeble interest in holiday cheer. Unbeknownst to all of us, including her, she was very sick but was focused primarily on her son (my brother) who had some pretty serious health problems himself. We barely waved a weak pine bough at Christmas and prayed for a better year to come.

2009: Jeff dies, Mom dies, Wells Fargo comes after my house in spite of my being paid up on mortgage payments. Merely remaining vertical was an effort.

2010 – 2014: Caretaking my father who is moved from one senior living facility to the next because he 1) won’t stop drinking to excess & making angry scenes at meals, and 2) won’t stop physically molesting his female caretakers. Yay. He blames me, as one would do. None of my extended family will speak to me, as they believe I’m abusing my father. Because we can’t sell his house, and because he mindlessly spends all his money, I’m using my own funds to pay for his care, but how do you explain that to anyone? Quite simply, you don’t.

2015 & 2016: Exhausted.

This year, determined, I pull out Mom’s Christmas boxes along with my lights, tree and bows. I worry that the cat will bat the delicate antique, fragile glass ornaments so lay the most treasured beneath the tree. On Christmas morning, I plug in the tree lights. No go. I switch sockets. Nope. Determined, I make hot cocoa with marshmallows and try to change the dead string of lights. A crimson and gold drum drops, bounces and crashes into the white and turquoise fake-snow covered antique ornament, hitting squarely on it’s “Merry Christmas” script.

You know what I do? I laugh. Out loud and kind of crazy, but really, it’s just funny.

Life always throws shit everywhere, but I’m here. I’m alive, I’m luckier than 99% of people here on earth, I have friends, most of my cousins have forgiven me, and my cat loves me.

So Peace, Love and Hope to everyone. We hold each other’s hearts, we treasure the good, and the other will move past. 🎄❤️🎶🎶🎶🎶❤️🎄😘