My Calm In The Middle

LogoCommonSense2I’ve never wanted CommonSense to be an “advice column.”  I’ve always felt capable of having ideas, but never skilled enough to know what’s best for others. Maybe that’s because I’ve always believed you can decide that for yourselves.  I’m afraid I’ll always have more questions for you than answers.

Does it seem to you that in a crisis, people tend to act and react in an “only two choices” mode? And do you believe that real life is seldom that way?  Does it usually turn out, after the fact, that there were hundreds of possibilities?  And when you found the answer, was it ever, in your life, one of the first two choices you considered?

Do you suspect there is a “thinking trap” into which we often fall?  The sort of thinking that imprisons us, believing our choices are between the devil and the deep blue sea.  This—or that.  Politics and public issues tend to be a good example of this: Republican or Democrat.  Liberal or Conservative.  Hawk or Dove.  Let me ask you about that, and how you think it applies to our current “emergency.”.

We often fall into this “dichotomy dilemma” by watching television, social media or reading a nationally syndicated newspaper.  Take “scientific research” as opposed to “anecdotal evidence,” for example.  If you hear a story about a doctor who has cured Covid-19 cases using hydroxychloroquine, you can bet good money that you’ll next hear a scientist saying it’s only anecdotal evidence.  It’s not scientifically proven.

Now I have a barrel of respect for science, along with a pinch or two of salt.  The good thing about scientists is that they always get smarter, given time.  The unfortunate thing is how many times they’re wrong in between.

Anecdotal evidence isn’t always wrong, any more than scientific research is always correct.  When Paul Revere rode through Lexington and Concord, warning “The British are coming,” he was operating on purely anecdotal evidence. Somebody told him about it and, having good horse sense, he jumped on a horse.

Context is often critical.  Abraham Lincoln often told this story: A law-abiding citizen once found himself looking down the barrel of a gun. According to Lincoln, this attacker severely underestimated his target, who lunged forward and took the weapon. “Stop!” hollered the crook. “Give me back that pistol; you have no right to my property!”  Context is often critical.

If a speechifying politician pounds his fist in Congress, telling us that our friend from yesterday is now an enemy, we’ll probably want to think about it.  But if a family member awakens us in the middle of the night shouting “The house is on fire!” we will likely accept the anecdotal evidence.

Does it seem to you that in our hometowns, we tend to consider context when we hear a story?  Maybe that’s because we have the context.  Maybe it’s because we know these people and only rarely do we talk with Senators over the back fence. Isn’t it almost always the case that when we want to find truth we seldom find it on the ends but somewhere in the middle? 

So when we’re told that “new coronavirus cases are increasing,” do we examine the context? Do we consider that testing  for coronavirus is also on the rise?  When someone tells us that sunshine kills the virus, we probably don’t rush naked into the streets, but we might sit out in the yard for an hour or so with our clothes on.  dbsig2We probably figure the sunlight isn’t going to kill us any faster than it has in the past.  That’s anecdotal, of course.  Are we careful about getting too close to other people, and do we wash our hands?  Seems like it worked for the common cold, tuberculosis and Ebola.  That’s operating on the anecdotal comfort of our lives and experience.  That’s horse sense.

After talking this over, you have convinced me that the truth is somewhere in the middle and we’re going to feel collectively foolish about the current crisis.  We’ll blame someone for it.

 

Avoid Coronavirus Death Rays

LogoCommonSense2Normally I don’t watch much television.  Only three of us live here.  Saint Mary, Joe The Dog and me.  In these days of governmentally forced imprisonment, someone likes to leave the TV on as “background” and it’s not the dog.

As a consequence, I’m exposed to a virus on the outside and indoor media manipulation when I walk through the living room or kitchen.  I’ve stayed inside too long because I’m beginning to feel as though death rays are being emitted from that talking box.  In a way, it’s true.

There are more commercials than in previous decades.  I haven’t set a stopwatch to it yet, but I believe the actual air time of any program, including the news, now consists of more commercials than the actual broadcast they promised me.  I suppose I could get one of those Tivo things and avoid commercials.  But why should I have to lay out the investment when I didn’t invite them in?  If the Fuller Brush Man knocked on my door and asked me to let him show me all his brushes, I’d say “No, thank you” and shut the door.  Why do zillions of us passively allow this home invasion by death rays? 

You may now realize that commercials annoy me no end.  Not because they’re trying to sell me something, but because they didn’t ask to come in and they entered with deception. At least the brush salesman would have told me what he’s up to, out there at my front door.  In these times of misguided lockdowns, every commercial I see or hear tells me, in one way or another, that we’re all in this together.  We’re not.  Saint Mary, Joe The Dog and I are in this together.  Ford Motor Company has never set foot in this house.  Neither has Viacom, which airs the most commercial minutes per hour, according to the folks who analyze that sort of thing.  Why do they speak of “we,” as though we are intimate friends?  I would think if we’re that close, they’d at least offer me a stock option. That would set the stage for a much friendlier relationship.

Today, every commercial assures me that, during this terrible crisis, their company is here to help me.  That’s shameless.  They want me  to help them. And they’re not here, they’re there.   All I want is for them to fess up and admit it.  If they were here, as they claim to be, we could have a conversation based on honesty, like with the Fuller Brush Guy.  But they’re not, so my solution is to hold up a foil turkey roasting pan to avoid the death rays while I’m in the kitchen.

The smartest thing most of us could do is turn off the television and read a book.

This odd national scare we’ve had will pass.  I suspect most of us will feel foolish dbsig2about it before too much time goes by. We are in this together, you and me.  I’m not selling anything other than ideas.  If you’re as old as me, stay safe.  If you’re young and healthy, stop worrying and enjoy your life.  I realize you have no idea who the Fuller Brush Man is, but take care around older people and help to protect us.  Our later years may be valuable to you.  And we’re honestly here to help.

Let’s Think About This

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I’m tired of hearing about coronavirus.  I’ll bet you are too.  Enough of the Trumpeting daily briefings.  Enough.  (I’m holding my hand up, palm out.)

Do you think maybe that by constantly being exposed to the media’s ranting and raving, we are altering our own reality?  Reality is not MSNBC.  It’s not Fox News, either.  The New York Times is not delivering reality to our doorstep, and politicians in front of a camera are not telling us about our world. They are delivering their  version of it.  Perhaps we could all benefit from less news and a grain of salt. 

I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible that “real” starts when when we talk and listen to others, then use our own logic and common sense.  Maybe that’s when it gets real.  Maybe the real  real is what we desperately need right now.

I just did a quick scan of two polar-opposite media networks.  Fox News has 22 coronavirus stories displayed.  MSNBC has 70.  The difference may interest you, since they both have political agendas, but one fact underpins both of them:  neither are in the news business.  Both are in the advertising business. They very badly need us to stay with them and not “switch channels.”  They know we are watching and they will use that information to persuade Coca-Cola or Proctor and Gamble to put millions of dollars into their pockets.  Oh, and they know which stories and advertisements we selected.  Consider that.

I’m far more interested in what real people think.  Not one word of any CommonSense I’ve ever written originated with me.  They came from interacting with other people.  But it sure seems like too many folks are functioning today only on what the media has fed them.

I was the problem child in my family.  Throughout my early years and a great deal of my adolescence, my parents would counsel me in my abject foolishness.  My mother spoke about love.  To her obstinate son, she would say things like “I will always love you, but if you behave like this, other people won’t.”

My father was a different story.  Oh, he loved me dearly, but it didn’t exactly come out that way. Completely frustrated by my foolishness, he would shout, rant and bluster, finally throwing his hands out in exasperation. “You’re not not using your brain!

They both made some very good points.  Somehow, during the next fifty years, I have softened my approach and started using whatever gray matter God put between my ears.  So I listen to a little of the news every day and then I turn it off.  And think about it.  And listen to people who have proven to me that they also discovered their brain at some point in their lives.  The reality soaks in.

I’m not just blabbering.  I have a point. Stick with me.

I have a good friend who also happens to be a doctor.  I’ve told you about him before. I’ve known him most of my life. He’s very logical.  If I was a hell raiser in my early years, he was calm and rational. Logical to the extreme.  I think it’s possible that he decided to be born only because he thought it over in the womb and decided it was a well reasoned idea.

We were sitting in the sun the other day, six feet apart, getting our dose of ultraviolet light, discussing the “Opening of America.”  His thoughts seemed to more clearly express what my nagging common sense has been picking at. What follows is a collection of his thoughts and mine.  I think it’s a valid, common sense approach.

Our first goal in this pandemic was to “Flatten The Curve.”  That was because we didn’t want to overwhelm our medical systems.  It worked.  It more than worked.

As we learned more by testing larger numbers of people (including those who had no symptoms) we found that the virus can be devastating for a small segment of people, yet mild or undetected for most. We didn’t know it earlier and now we do.  We can now take it to the bank.

Yet while the “number of cases” may be helpful for epidemiologists, it’s of very little value for us normal people.  My doctor friend says that watching for significant hospitalizations would be a more useful tool.  That will tell us if we’re moving too fast. 

We started with Flatten The Curve, but the narrative has changed.  Flatten The Curve has become Eradicate The Disease.  That is an impossible goal.  My friend said nothing we are doing now will bring that about.  Nor should it, necessarily.

Here’s the good part. The coldly logical, common sense part.  As more and more people contract Covid-19, with or without symptoms, herd immunity rears its head as the victor.  Herd immunity is not in me.  It’s in the people around me. As their numbers increase, my chance of catching it decreases.

It’s very logical, then, to grasp the real  reality.  Continued isolation will only delay the development of herd immunity.  Isolation was right in the beginning.  Rather than saying it’s wrong today, let’s call it counterproductive.

I’m an older person.  I still need to be very careful.  I’m not offering medical advice to anyone.  But I am saying that with common sense and an eye to caution, it’s time to bring back the new/old normal because I’m tired of hearing about this.

Biden Time

 

LogoCommonSense2Believe it or not, there’s more going on than just a virus.   There are people running for president.

Full disclosure here: I’m not a Joe Biden supporter.  That’s because of his past policies and his current stand on important issues.  He’s a likeable guy.  I would go so far as to say that it’s almost impossible not  to like him. But supporters of the Democrat candidate deserve to know the ramifications of his candidacy and consider them.

Knowing our history is important. Listening to older people who have a sense of what has happened before looms large.  We may be too old to run for president, but our knowledge is pure gold, should young voters wish to take advantage of it.  Generally speaking, we’re not as quick as we were.  But we’re much more careful.

In private conversations with my friends, I’ve stated several times that I feel like history is repeating itself, and perhaps it’s time to “go public” with it.  Joe Biden’s choice of a vice-presidential candidate may be critical.  Should Biden be elected, it may be one of those decisions about which we ultimately say “Wow, if only we’d realized how important that was at the time.”

In 1944, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for his fourth term, he was virtually unbeatable.  He was also in extremely precarious health and most of the country didn’t know it.  The truth, however, was very evident to party leaders and insiders of the time. In those days, as today, the vice-presidential candidate was selected by the party convention, but the candidate’s views carried a great deal of weight in that decision. While a majority of our country was not aware of FDR’s poor health, the Democrat leadership was frightened by it. They knew that FDR would win the election.  They were aware that he would likely not survive another four years.  It wasn’t talked about, but within the party leadership, they could see FDR dying right before their eyes. They knew that in selecting a vice-presidential candidate, they were likely naming the next president.

Henry Wallace was the sitting vice-president.  Wallace leaned far to the left and was regarded as “a Socialist” or a “near-Communist.”  A frightened Democrat leadership pressured FDR to dump Wallace and move right with his selection, toward the center of the party.  In July of 1944, the convention accepted FDR’s choice of Harry Truman as his running mate. In nine months, Roosevelt was dead at 63 years of age and Truman took the oath of office as President. In a nutshell, that’s what happened.

Biden is 77 years old.  He has suffered two known burst brain aneurisms. He has also experienced “leaking” from aneurisms, known as sub-conjunctival hemorrhages. I’m not a doctor.  But I’m honestly frightened and concerned that Joe Biden may have hidden aneurism issues or is displaying the first signs of impending dementia.  Having dealt with this in my own family, I don’t wish it on Democrats or my worst enemy.

Biden has long been ridiculed for his public “gaffes.”  I don’t fault him there.  Any candidate who is being rushed from state to state, city to city and expected to remember where he is and what day it is will ultimately fail the test and offer the media some regrettable blunders.  The extent of the candidate’s misstatements is directly related to the media’s eagerness to hear them. Biden has had the misfortune of a press that hungers for his errors.  It is perhaps important, though, to consider the physical stamina required in a presidential campaign, not to mention the physical and mental stress of the presidency itself.

Far more concerning than “gaffes” are his age, health history and recurring tendency to lose his train of thought, mid-sentence.  Were he to win the presidency and a subsequent re-election, he would be nearly 90 before leaving office.  I’ll put it bluntly: the odds of him reaching the end of his first term are not good.  Things are looking awfully (and I chose that word carefully) familiar.

Today, the Democrat candidate is not being pressured to move toward the center.  He’s already there.  Rather, the “smart money” says he needs the Bernie Sanders supporters; he has to move left, toward the radicalized Sanders and the Jihad Squad.  Couple that with Biden’s health. It’s not a stretch to imagine a successor president very few of us expected.dbsig2

Truman’s legacy survived.  He’s now regularly listed as one of the ten best presidents in U.S. history.  This is a wonderful country, but I suspect we’ll not get another Truman.

Rocket Man Not Wanted Dead Or Alive

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I am getting more than a little tired of this pandemic and I’m afraid it’s starting to show.   I was laughing for all the wrong reasons as news bulletins can’t decide if the North Korean dictator has drawn his last breath.  Or not.

Kim Jong Un is dead.  Or maybe just really sick.  Or mildly ill.  Or hiding from the Covid-19 pandemic at an elite resort on the eastern side of a country that claims to have no virus cases whatsoever.

The media has conjectured about the little rocket man for nearly a month.  Originally he was only oddly missing but there was no proof of this. Then someone supposed he was ill, hedging their bet by admitting that information from North Korea is hard to come by.  The President said he hoped LRM wasn’t ill and had received a nice note from him.

Less than a week ago, the New York Post said he was dead.  The story reported that a stent procedure went south because the surgeon’s hands were shaking.  It did seem a little odd that in a country with very few forthcoming details, the shaking hands ingredient had made a break for it and gotten around the world. The Post lamented that getting information from North Korea is like pulling teeth.

We were then subjected to numerous stories about Little Rocket Sister—who they say is a likely successor as soon as they bury her brother.  But of course finding the actual truth is, well, difficult.

In a very short time, Kim Jong Rocket had risen, shuffling up the mortal coil to arrive successfully at gravely ill again.  

I’ve seen this show before.  In Monty Python’s stage musical Spamalot,  Not Dead Fred insists that he’s alive as they toss him onto a cart full of plague victims.  The new North Korean hit of the season is Rocket Man: Only A Little Dead!

In today’s brave new world, honest information is scarce as hens’ teeth.dbsig2

The most recent news is that someone (I’ve given up on who said what) spotted the dictator’s private train at a resort. Someone else postulated that his procedure was
minor, that his condition was serious yet not fatal. 

I suspect that by next Monday, he’ll be perfectly all right.

What Goes Around Comes Around

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What goes around comes around.

As recently as a month ago, the news media suggested we were in a life and death struggle for more ventilators.  Now we sit atop the ventilator motherlode of the world and don’t need them. The president won’t stop boasting about them as though they were another “beautiful, huge, and incredible” Trump Tower. 

Ventilators are now old news. Today the annoying screech of the media is “More Testing!” I’ve been accused of being overly simplistic about this.  (Maybe they said I was half simple, I can’t remember.)  I’m not a doctor but I have played one onstage and I don’t need a stethoscope hanging around my neck to notice when common sense flies out the window.

Taking a test to determine if I have the virus is plausible only until somebody sneezes. The best test doesn’t require distance, danger or dollars. Do I have a persistent fever, cough, fatigue, loss of appetite or shortness of breath?  If yes, I should call the doctor.  If no, I should return to my home and nothing more will be said.  Is this overly simplistic?  I don’t think so. 

Antibody testing is a different critter. The first test was done on a representative sample of the population of Santa Clara County, California.  It appears that up to 85 times more people had been infected than reported cases—but they had not been noticeably sick as a result. A larger study on Los Angeles County has now been completed.  I’ll bet we can expect the same results.  The same studies are being done in New York with similar results.

Opinion writer Brian Giesbrecht wondered aloud about antibody testing: “If it’s confirmed that instead of the estimate that two or three out of 100 infected people die from COVID-19, only two or three out of 1,000 die, it would be a game-changer.”

Again, I’m no doctor or scientist, but I have felt for months that this virus has been around far longer than we thought and that far more people have survived, many without realizing it.  I’m not advising readers to hit the streets with no worries. Be careful out there. I’ll probably wait until the science corrects itself.  It’s a simple fact that I’m also avoiding the flu, the common cold, Ebola, tuberculosis and the Black Plague.  What’s not to like about that?

Is this worldwide economic shutdown the most costly mistake ever made?  If the pandemic is shown to be less than what we thought, the lynch-mobbing media will certainly view it that way.  A president faced with what appear dbsig2to be catastrophic consequences is forced to make choices.  What should those choices be?  If I’m not mistaken, presidents still take that oath promising to faithfully execute the office and protect the Constitution.  Time will be the ultimate judge—not the hyperventilating media.

The New Normal Looks Like The Old One

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Stanford University researchers recently tested over 3000 adults and children in Santa Clara County in California for Covid-19 antibodies.  A lot of details on this study are available, but the bottom line is that the information suggests the virus has been here far longer than we thought and it’s likely far more widespread.  People had it and didn’t know it.  Herd immunity was calmly developing before the news media first decided to be upset about Covid-19. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest also that the virus is not nearly as dangerous as we thought.  Please don’t go rushing into the streets, shaking hands and kissing each other based on what I’m saying here.  I’ve made a retired career out of being happily irresponsible and I’m not going to change now.

I have suggested, in various ways, over the past three months that the long term view of this pandemic will look far different than it does today.  We’re getting there. If you want to know how we’ll eventually view the Covid-19 pandemic, just think about how you view tuberculosis or the flu.  Study the history.  They were both horrible pandemics.  They were nightmare killers. Think about how we view them today.  It’s a safe bet that if I walk up to just about anyone on the street and ask “Wow, that deal with tuberculosis back in the 1800s was just awful, wasn’t it?”  the probable answer would be “Yeah.  I guess so.”  We forget very  quickly.  That’s our nature.

I hear the criticism of how this apparent emergency was handled.  Trillions spent!  I don’t know about you, but even if they discovered tomorrow that the virus doesn’t actually exist, I’m still  not going to have a problem with the government giving me some of my money back.  I’m not built to feel that way.

I don’t know the exact timing of when the new normal starts looking like the old normal.  But I believe it’ll happen sooner that we suspect.  We’re not going to “social distance” forever, and it’ll happen before we can think of a better term for it (like “being careful,” maybe?)

An awful lot of talking heads are now slamming the earlier models which are now “wrong.”  I’ve listened to dozens and dozens of scientists who have said, in one way or another, that of course the models were wrong.  That’s because they’re models.  A model is built with assumptions, and are only as good as those assumptions.  And of course some of the assumptions are incorrect, and the models get adjusted.  When the problem is finally solved and ended, the models serve as information for the future.

Let’s say you’re sitting at home and decide you want a hamburger.  You hop in your car, drive across town and take a short cut that happens to be a dead end.  You correct the error and get your hamburger.  The next time you’re hungry, you avoid making that mistake again. There.  You’ve adjusted your model, and it’s better than it was when you started.  If you wish to spend even a minute of your time assigning blame for your erroneous model, that’s your privilege.  I’m only on the smart edge of half simple, but I say when you correct your model you’re smarter and you’ve got a hamburger.

Why are we so upset with models?  An apparent emergency occurred and we tried to make intelligent plans.  Why do we feel the need to assign blame when we know very well that folks did the best they could with what they had and got better as they learned? it’s illogical and downright silly.

Here’s something we’ve learned:  we can knock down a highly contagious virus by staying home and being careful.  In fact, we can knock down many health problems simply by washing our hands, keeping our distance and being careful.  I suspect we’ll forget that too.

Zombie Apocalypse Reality Check

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I do a lot of thinking about things while I’m working in my shop.  Not because I have to stay home during this virus thing, but because I’m retired and I stay home and think about things while I’m working in my shop anyway.  But here’s what I think, and I believe it’s mostly correct.

On Saturday December 6, 1941 life was good, both here in the U.S. and at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  The next morning, Japan killed thousands of us and precipitated our entry into World War II.  There were thousands of heroes on that morning and in battle during the next four years.  We’ve forgotten virtually all of them, living or dead.

In 1889, The Johnstown Flood killed at least 2000 people.  I’ll bet there were thousands of heroes there.  We don’t know who they were.

In 1906 the Great San Francisco Earthquake shocked us.  At least 3000 dead.  You can still read stories about the heroes there if you’re willing to search for them.

On September 11, 2001 terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and elsewhere, killing nearly 3000 people.  The nation reeled under the shock.  We’ve pretty much quit reeling and stopped celebrating the firemen and thousands of other heroes.  They get an annual “thank you” these days, but in another twenty years, they’ll get the same treatment as Iwo Jima soldiers.

This list could go on and on. Today’s doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, truckers, grocery store personnel and thousands upon thousands of heroes should soak up this adulation and remember it, because in five years, we certainly won’t.

The media is currently trying to convince me that the president has done a terrible job of fighting this pandemic.  Is that true?  I don’t know, and neither do they.  Would the other choice for president in 2016 have done a better and more effective job?  I doubt it.  Here’s something I’m sure of:  Harry Truman walked out of the White House on January 20, 1953 labeled as one of the worst presidents in history.  Truman died in 1972.  Today, he is regularly listed as one of the ten best presidents in history.  Bear in mind, he accomplished all this while he was dead.   Point being that Harry didn’t change; we did.  We would do well to apply this to our current administration; you just never know how wrong a dead President is going to make you look.

The reality is that anyone trying to fight this pandemic probably made errors and heroic decisions at the same time.  Shouldn’t we all focus on how we can be better prepared next time?  I hope we do.

A little dose of positive reality: We’ve knocked the incidence of regular old flu down by amazing numbers.  We won’t see much of that reported in the news.  Bad news sells, and don’t you forget it.

What we know about this pandemic today will not be the reality tomorrow.  The business of this country will reopen. it will be spotty at first and move faster later.  People will forget about social distancing about as quickly as they learned it.  We’ll shake hands again, because that will remind us what “normal” feels like.  But we are a people who must forget things.  We are a people who require a villain and a symbolic atonement.  We’ve been doing this since we stuck knives in sacrificial lambs on stone altars.  We will create our own sunny and wonderful time all over again, but first we must put our knives in all the right places. You know, because it was their  fault.

Business and the economy will come back, sooner than we think but not fast enough for those who are suffering as a result of it.  I mean no ill will against those lost businesses and employees, but the reality is that in our society, businesses fail and people lose their jobs.  In our society, a new business is drawn to the vacuum and creates jobs.  This life and death struggle doesn’t require a pandemic, but we’ll stab it all the same. That is a reality.

People have died from this pandemic.  People will die from this pandemic—mostly older people.  I certainly don’t intend to marginalize older people—I’m one of them.  But in fact, people die, mostly older people.  That is a reality and we do our damndest to deny it.

We won’t all go into the streets, flooding the country at once. Most older people will refrain from dangerous situations until the vaccine is actually in their arm.  They’ll be the most careful and they are unquestionably the most patient.  For everyone else, the day is coming when we’ll be told the world isn’t ending.  When our healthcare infrastructure is prepared and adequate, herd immunity will win the day.  It will be December 6, 1941 all over again.

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There are good and wonderful people in this world, doing good and wonderful things. There are heroes. Look for them and celebrate them.  But be aware of humankind as it exists alongside you, not what you see and hear on television. Be aware of these small things and wonderfully good people. That’s real.

Me and Hank

 

 

LogoCommonSense2We are “self-isolating” now.  In the vernacular of those who can’t seem to avoid throwing awkward words together, we’re “social distancing.”  I’m staying six feet away from those phrases.  I don’t know what you call it.  I’m staying at home, discovering some joy in simple, forgotten things.  That’s more of a mouthful than the two-word, noun-denying affliction above, but at an age when time is running out, I keep trying to get things right.

I’m writing more often during the day.  I do that only when an idea has rattled around in my head, worn smooth as a polished rock. I’m compelled  to spit it out.  My compulsion is only palliative.  I’ve never found a cure.

Thanks to technology, Hank Williams and I have been hanging out together the past few weeks.  Not the “Are You Ready For Some Football” Hank Williams.  The other one.  The original. When I was a young college student, I convinced myself that I disliked country music.  It reminded me of who and what I was—a provincial fool.  Years later, after I grew a brain, I heard Hank singing one day and realized I had forgotten about him.  So for those of you out there who despise the twangy and simplistic tortured love of real country music, I’m here to tell you that I am now old enough to not care what you think of me.  As they say, that’s none of my business.

I don’t care for the current music that is, for some reason, still called “country.”  I know nothing about that.  But if you know Hank’s story, you understand that some things never change.  The most talented among us are often the most tortured souls on earth.

You can learn about how country music began—where it began, how it came to be—in thousands of places today.  I have found the story fascinating.  You’ll hear some names of the true pioneers of that genre.  Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family among others. And later, How Willie Nelson was broke and drunk and sold “Crazy” to an up-and-coming Patsy Cline. And you may, like me, think about why it seems the good die young.

Hank Williams died at 29 in the back seat of a car on a cold, wintery road in West Virginia, with a broken-down spine, shot full of morphine, alcohol and God knows what else. I can’t remember if he was married or divorced at the time.  He left behind a trail of cancelled performances and an angry music industry fed up with his unpredictable behavior.  In a career lasting less than ten years, he had created hundreds—hundreds— of popular recordings, many of which are still being played today.  Twenty-nine.  Dead and cold in the back seat of a car.

His marriage was an on-again, off-again love/hate relationship.  Lots of shouting, throwing things, name-calling.  Hank was no angel—neither was Audrey. There are always two sides to a pancake.  I’m sure that lady had stories to tell, but she didn’t have his ability to tell them.  Hank’s story is in the songs; he loved her and she drove him crazy.  There’s an old axiom in country music: “To sing a country song, all you need are three chords and the truth.”  Boy howdy.dbsig2

So this one’s for Hank.  If you secretly listen to old country music when nobody’s watching, and if you usually pretend that you can’t stand nasally twang, why you just give “Crazy Heart” a listen and see if I’m not right.

Marxist Monopoly At A Social Distance

 

LogoCommonSense2

Alexandra’s cell phone battery sputtered and died while monsters shattered her world outside.

“What will I do now?” she asked.

Her grandfather looked up from his book and smiled.

“You could plug it in and let it charge.”

“That takes forever.”

“Mmmm.” he said, and went back to his book.

“There’s nothing to do,” she wailed.

“You could go outside.”

“The monsters are out there,” she said, pulling back the curtain on the window, looking up and down the street.

“Mmmm,” said the old man.

“There’s nothing to do,” she whined.

He looked up. “You could read a book.”

“Meh,” she mumbled.

He slid the bookmark into the tight crevice of the pages and closed the book.  “Now let me make sure I know what you said.  ‘Meh,’ I believe is a newer iteration that means ‘I’m not interested.’ So, say five years ago, you would have said ‘whatever’ and meant the same thing?”

She stared at him.  Meh was written all over her face.

“Why do you always say ‘Mmmm’ like you know something I don’t?”

“Mmmm. You might find this book interesting,” he smiled.  “This is a short story by John Steinbeck.  Do you know who Steinbeck was?”

“Yes, he was some old guy who wrote a book about growing grapes.  And stuff.”

Her grandfather stared at her and blinked his eyes at least four times.  Maybe five.

“It’s a story about how people behave when the zombies are on the loose.”

“I already know how to behave.  Stay inside.  Social distance, six feet, all that.”

“Don’t be churlish.”

“What’s churlish?”

“If you had plugged in that phone, you could be finding out.  That thick gray book right there in the bookcase is called a dictionary.  All the words are in alphabetical order.”

She stared at him again.  All over her face was churl.

Her grandfather smiled.  “Would you like to play a game?”

“My phone’s dead.”

“No I mean an old-fashioned board game.  In the real world.  In 3D. Let’s play Monopoly.”

Alex sighed, “I always win.”

Her grandfather allowed the slightest of smiles to cross his face.

“Would you like to play a Monopoly game that’s a little more unpredictable?”

“Maybe.”

He pulled the box from the bookshelf and blew the dust from it.

“This is called Marxist Monopoly.”

They unfolded the board on the dining room table and arranged all the pieces, sorting the play money into its proper compartments.

Alex eyed the pieces and grabbed her favorite.  “I’ll be the Scottie Dog, as usual.  He’s my good luck piece.  Do you want the top hat?”

Her grandfather’s wrinkled hand moved over the collection.  “This game is a little different.  I think I’ll be The Boot.”

He handed her a green twenty dollar bill, and gave himself one.  “Now I’ll be the bank, but in this game, we’ll call it the Government.”

“Fine.  Whatever.”

Alex rolled the dice.  A two and a one.  “Three! that gives me Baltic Avenue.”  She stared at the price.  “I only have twenty dollars.”

“Yes,” said her grandfather. “Same as the rest of us.”

“But that’s not fair!”

“Oh, I beg to differ.  It’s actually extremely fair.  We all got the same amount.”

“Then we should have started with more to begin with.”

“Well, in regular Monopoly, you’d be entitled to your opinion.  I’m afraid that’s not the case in this game.  If you don’t stop complaining, I’ll throw you in jail.”

“You can’t do that!  It’s against the rules!”

“Actually, I’m the government and I am the rules.  I can do that.”

Her grandfather rolled an eight, landing on Connecticut Avenue.  “You see?  I don’t have enough either.  Your turn.”

She rolled the dice again, landing on CHANCE.  Her grandfather handed her the orange card. “PAY POOR TAX OF $15” said the little top-hatted millionaire with his pockets turned inside-out.

Her grandfather gave her five dollars in change.  “How do you know that’s right?” she asked.

The top of his head tilted slowly down to a position near his shoulder as he stared at her.

Grandfather rolled again, landing on Tennessee Avenue.  He handed her the dice.

Eight.  She landed on Pennsylvania Railroad.  “Well obviously I can’t afford it,” she muttered.

“It makes no difference.  They’re all Amtrak now.”

“Wait a minute.  Who owns all this property at the start?”

“I do, Alex.  I’m the government.”

“Well I don’t think I like this game.”

“Most people don’t,” said her grandfather.

“I’m not going to play by the rules.”

He moved her piece to JAIL.

“ That’s not fair.”

“Oh it’s quite fair.  I’m the government and I’d do it to anyone playing this game.”

“I quit.”

“Most people do.”

They picked up the pieces and put them in the box.

“That’s an immoral and unwinnable game.”

Her grandfather’s head moved slowly over to his shoulder again as he smiled at her.

“Mmmmm.”dbsig2

(FULL DISCLOSURE BY THE AUTHOR:  I’m never this patient with young people.  I made the whole thing up.)