Six Times a Survivor – A Memoir Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2 – A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

Birth and Death are bookends. Our lives are the volumes contained between them. My bookends had only a few coloring books between them before I was almost killed.

My first encounter with death is one of my earliest childhood memories.  As I look back on it, which is seldom now, I realize how truly lucky I was.

My home for the first 18 years of my life was in a great neighborhood.  The houses were modest, middle-class places with nothing more than the width of a driveway separating them on either side.  By the time I was seven I knew everyone who lived in each of the homes on Palmer Street – kids and grown ups – and they knew me.   Ours was not a busy street, but neither was it a dead end.  It was one of a warren of residential roads that terraced a broad hill. Our little 1/8th mile road was one of the terraces and was bracketed by road-hills at each end. 

Palmer Street was never heavily trafficked.  Our neighbors and their visitors accounted for nearly all of the sparse traffic on our small piece of road. Most cars in the vicinity passed up or down one of the hills. The center of our village, Springdale, was at the bottom of the hill.

Kids of all ages lived on the terraced roads and hills. Our playgrounds were our back yards and the street. When we played on the street, when a kid saw a car coming he or she would cleverly yell, “Car!” We’d politely step off the road and wait for the car to pass before resuming our play.

It happened in the summer of 1956.  A bunch of us were playing “war” (when “shot” you had to “die” dramatically and count to 10 before you could rejoin the battle).  Not yet six years old, I was excited because the “big kids” were letting we little ones play with them. 

The battle lines were on either side of the road right in front of my house. The combatants yelled “bam-bam-bam” as they pulled the triggers on their toy guns from the cover provided by the cars parked on both curbsides. 

The leader of our pint-sized army called us together to describe his intricate attack strategy: basically, run at them. We all were going make a daring do-or-die heroic charge across no-man’s-land, e.g., the street, to engage the enemy on their side of the road.

I gritted what teeth I had and squeezed my plastic toy pistol. A plan! A coordinated attack with and against big kids! I couldn’t wait!  On the count of three we fearless little soldiers charged as one across the street, guns blazing bam-bam-bam, to meet our foes.

I arrived at the other curb and realized I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. So, what now?  

My quandary was quickly solved when the biggest and loudest enemy big kid stood right in front of me and bellowed at all of us to get back to our own side of the street before he started knocking heads together.  Genuinely panicked, I turned and made a fear-fueled, though short-legged, dash towards the safety of our side of the road.

I was completely oblivious of the car driving by until it offered its greetings when I darted in front of it from between two parked cars.

I remember my head colliding with steel as I bounced off the front of the car.  The next thing I knew I was lying by the curb and my mother was next to me on her knees, pale-faced and afraid. I don’t know if I was knocked unconscious by the car or by my landing, but I was out for a while during which my mother came to my side and a neighbor called for an ambulance. I opened my eyes briefly in shock. When I became conscious of my fear, confusion and pain I started to wail – a good sign.

Years later, when my mother recounted the scene, she said she was looking through our dining room windows and saw the accident about to happen. She saw the car and saw me running toward it between the parked cars moments before we collided.  She shrieked “No,” as she bolted for the front door.  When she opened it she saw me fall on my back near the curb.

In mere seconds she went from clearing the breakfast dishes to living in her worst nightmare, powerless to control whatever was next.  I can’t imagine what she went through.  When we spoke about it years later told me she “thanked God that it wasn’t my time to die.”

Luckily the lady driving the car slowed as she saw the playing children make way for her.  When I darted in front of her car she had no time to avoid impact. Her precautionary speed minimized the damage to me though. Her car struck me down but I’d not been run over.

Ultimately, I learned to cross streets safely but had no comprehension of the real danger I’d been in. I realized the extent of my good fortune only years later. 

To me the net result of my headlong charge in front of a moving car included an ambulance ride – sirens and all, an egg-shaped lump on my forehead, a concussion, an over night stay in the hospital, some new toys, and a vulnerability to headaches that didn’t go away for the next 20 years.

The accident was minor.

It could have been far worse.  

Lucky me.

Chapter 3 – Death in Childhood Eyes Eyes

As a child I was lucky always to feel safe and valued. Growing up I doubt I ever realized the importance of my support systems, protection, advocates, belonging, security, sustenance, privilege, personal values, modeled behavior, and all the other benefits lovingly provided by my family. It was all just there for the taking. Consequently, I was a happy, well-adjusted, upbeat kid in my early years, and I genuinely knew I had it good. I was woefully unaware, however, that lots of kids and others didn’t (still don’t) have it so good.

 I had a faint awareness of death but was naturally unconcerned about my own demise as a child; after all, I’d just emerged from the starting gate in life.

Meet the Reaper

As is common, my grandparents were the first of my close relatives to die during my childhood. My paternal grandmother, Myrtle Krum Ash ( that’s right, she went from a Krum to an Ash when she married) passed nine months after my birth. She’d known and loved me, held me and cared for me, but I have absolutely no recollection of her. Family photographs confirm she was a nice part of my life, but she was gone before my lasting memory was enabled. Thank goodness for photos. The love in her eyes, her smile, and her kind disposition are easy to see, even in black & white. By all accounts, she was a gem. But her death didn’t faze me in the least. My goals were focused on needing a diaper change, being fed and sleeping.

Myrtle’s husband, my paternal grandfather, Samuel Bailey Ash, survived her by five years, so I actually knew and still remember “Pop” Sam. He let my sister and me stay up late when he babysat us. He smoked his pipe or a cigar, read the newspaper and talked with us while we played with our toys on the floor. He always got us to bed and asleep before my parents returned home, so we kept our little stay-up secret with him always. Born in Brooklyn, he had been a milkman and later worked in the train yard of the New York and New Haven Railroad before he retired. After Myrtle died he moved in with my dad’s sister, Aunt Evelyn, her husband Uncle Charley and their four girls. Theirs was a small home of big hearts. Pop volunteered as a school crossing guard; he smiled a lot and was great with kids.

When we visited the small house of big hearts, I’d run upstairs to visit Pop’s room to smell his pipe tobacco. Next to his easy chair stood a side table/floor lamp that illuminated his newspapers and held what I considered his best possessions – an ashtray, his rack of briar pipes, a pipe tool, and his leather tobacco pouch. I’d climb on his lap and he’d reach for the tobacco pouch, open it, and give it to me. I’d bend my head down to stick my nose into that pouch to breathe in the aroma of pipe tobacco and leather. I loved it and he always got a kick out of that.

I was six years old when Pop Sam died. He had a heart attack while coming home from someplace in town, and drove his old Plymouth into a telephone pole. He was dead before they got him into the ambulance.

When my sister and I came home from school that day (most kids all walked to and from school in those days), I was surprised to see my father home early from work.  He lifted me, looked me in the eyes, and gently told me that Pop was dead. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but I knew that because he died, I would never see him again. That was enough to make me bury my face into my dad’s shoulder and cry.

My most vivid memory of that afternoon is when Dad put me down I ran to one of the upholstered chairs in our living room, knelt before it and wept into the seat cushion. To this day, when I see photos taken in that living room and I see that chair, I remember it as the altar I cried on for Pop.

Life Marches On

Youth is resilient and the death of someone in a family’s elder generation, while painful and sorrowful, is not an unexpected tragedy. In the 1950s the male life expectancy in the United States was 67.6 years. Today it is 76.3. When my grandfather Sam had his fatal heart attack, he was beyond his average life expectancy.  When he died, Pop’s four offspring were all adults, all married, and all with families of their own. He even had a great-grandchild.  His work was done. 

Pop was a widower and was at the end of his days. I was too young to go to the wakes or the funeral; my introduction to the rituals of death in my land was postponed to a later date. Early in the following week, my Dad left for work as usual and my mother prepared my sister and me for school. The return to normalcy was comforting; our lives resumed essentially unchanged.

I occasionally felt Pop’s absence and would sometimes think about the implications of this death thing while trying to fall asleep at night. I’d never really wrestled with anything like this before. When I tried to imagine I would also someday die, it was beyond my comprehension. I would end up thanking God that I wasn’t an old man and took great comfort that I would not be one for a long time yet. The only way I could deal with the concept was to tell myself that I would “cross that bridge when I got to it.” My immediate future was my outermost reach; considerations of old age and death would wait.

I worried about when my parents and sister would die. I needed them, but they were older so logically they would die before me.  I figured I was going to end up alone. That idea in a six-year-old mind was uncomfortable to say the least, so I made my mother, father and sister promise that after we all died we’d find one another in heaven so we could be together forever. 

I guess that meant I loved them.

Even at the age of six, I somehow understood that the suffering of death was left to the living. I feared suffering more than dying. I knew what pain was but not death. Eventually, despite the promise I forced on them, I ardently prayed that I would die before my parents did.  Not right away or soon, but first. I’d be the trailblazer and would choose the place in heaven where we would all be rejoined after we died. I’d know they were coming so I wouldn’t miss them too much while waiting for them. If they died first, I’d be very sad and would suffer missing them every day.  Truth be told, I feared if they got there first there was a chance they’d forget our deal and leave me behind. 

I prayed to be first.

It didn’t work.

Six Times a Survivor – A Memoir

By James C. Ash

 Memoir (noun):

 1. A narcissist’s manuscript written to inflate his/her ego at the expense of his/her unwitting readers.

2.  An insufferable imposition on an author’s captive family and former friends .                                                                                     

Introduction 

The world’s population is largely comprised of inconspicuous people who haven’t the circumstance, opportunity or desire to attract wide attention.  Few are famous or infamous. Sometimes though, extraordinary things happen to ordinary people.

I never expected to find myself at death’s door six different times in my life…so far. I had no warnings, no plans and certainly no desire to be near that mysterious portal. I had no choice.  Like it or not, I experienced six such events, five of which broadened the scope of what I believed life is about.

This memoir is about coincidences and destinies.  It’s about astounding dumb luck and/or divine intervention. It’s about odds and aging. It’s about pain and gratitude and rituals and grief. It’s about fear and love and lessons I took to heart and those I ignored.

This is an ordinary man’s remarkable unfinished story.

Note: the subsequent blog entries of Six Times a Survivor are sorted more or less chapter by chapter and will be posted sequentially, but not regularly, beginning with Chapter 1 below.

Chapter 1 – Truly Extraordinary Luck

Huge helpings of luck have played a prominent role several times in my life, including my birth.  In fact, by virtue of birth everyone has been the beneficiary of monumentally astounding luck. That’s how everyone’s start on life on earth begins.

From a cosmic perspective: We are all lucky to have been born on a planet that is simultaneously far enough away from its sun, and close enough to its sun, to sustain life as we know it. We are riding the rotating Earth in an orbit through a narrow sweet spot between temperature extremes in space.  Life as we know it would be impossible without these circumstances. We have yet to find any other planet that sustains life, but we’re still trying.  In an infinite universe, chances are other planets can support life, but not many. 

From an earthly perspective: There had to be a time when water, carbon, heat, chemicals, gasses, lightning, and other elements and conditions necessary to create life all existed in sufficient supply at the same place and time on Earth.   Divine providence or scientific fantastic phenomenon, the initial creation of life on Earth was an astronomical miracle.  The recipe for combining non-living matter and energy to make living beings has never been published, but it had to be cooked up either by God or insanely ridiculous chance. 

From the human perspective:  It took several doses of the “luck of the draw” in the saga of everyone’s journeys of conception. The human birth process involves a huge and complex chain of potential circumstances and outcomes.   It takes a unique pairing of a man’s sperm cell and a woman’s egg to create a human being. Presuming that the selection of the lucky cell and its hostess is random, the odds are ludicrously slim that a specific, ready egg will meet a specific sperm cell to fertilize and produce a unique human embryo.

Assuming a healthy woman gives birth to four children in her life and produces one egg per month for 35 years (420 eggs), each egg has a less than 1% (0.95%) chance of being fertilized into a human embryo.

The single sperm cell that partners with the egg requires huge multiples more luck than the egg.  According to “Mechanisms of Sperm Motility” by Dr. Charles Lindemann of Oakland University, a healthy man releases an average of 280 million sperm cells each time he ejaculates. https://files.oakland.edu/users/lindeman/web/index.htmlhttps://files.oakland.edu/users/lindeman/web/index.html

Consequently, any pairing of a particular one-in-a hundred egg with a one-among-trillions particular sperm cell is a certifiable miracle. Every one on this planet, alive or dead, beat those nearly impossible odds against being born. Any different egg or any other sperm cell would have created an entirely different person than you. 

In this, everyone is a miracle.

An Extra Helping of Luck

In the high stakes, minuscule chance, Become-a-Baby Mega Trillions Lottery, I needed and got an extra helping of luck.

My parents wanted two children and ultimately that’s what they had (my sister is four years my senior).  So why did I need an extra portion of super miraculous luck?

I was a young man before I learned that my mother had a miscarriage two years after my sister was born.  It was a sad and unfortunate event for my parents, but what an incredibly lucky break for me!

How insane is this? Years before I was conceived, when I was nothing more than the slightest inkling of a minute possibility that didn’t yet exist, I got lucky. Had my parents’ second pregnancy produced a healthy child, it is very unlikely the sperm cell and the egg that both carried my name would ever have met.

A Trojan warrior would have seen to that.

Okay, Now What?

I hope you’re pleased to know how impressively you won the person-to-be competition.  In the realms of possibility and value you are a true champion.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In the immense realm of non-events, “Every life is precious” is not a platitude.

Without Exception: All Lives Matter, A Lot.

Fighting the Flames

Photo by Ozzie Stern on Unsplash

February 2021

I have heard from various sources, including the talking heads in the media and people I know and highly respect, that we all need to understand that the national debt needs attention. Interestingly, these last four years the Senators of what is now the new minority Republican party inflated the national debt far beyond all previous measure. Now it seems they have have found religion and want new majority Democratic party take steps to curtail spending.

Democrats who now control both houses of the Congress intend to legislate a follow up stimulus package to help the economic victims of Covid19.  Republicans are opposing this action on the grounds that it would be harmful to the national debt that they over inflated during the four-year Trump debacle.

Among their stable of talking points is that ‘when the country gives its citizens a financial stimulus, all it accomplishes is the government loaning the taxpayers’ money back to them.  Eventually, those same taxpayers will need to pay it back with interest.

I look at this issue as water and fire. Right now the Covid19 killing fire is raging and people the world over need water to fight the flames. Millions of our citizens who lost their livelihoods or their insurance or health have become financially insecure and in desperate need of help because of Covid19. None of us needs to have caught the disease to become a victim of it. Our entire nation is under siege. Sure the water will need to be replenished by our nation of citizens over time. The distribution of the ‘water’ and its replenishment will test the notion of America as a nation.

But those of us who by luck, or the Grace of God, or wise investment, have dependable reservoirs, need to share that wealth now. The debt that we all share is huge. While the stimulus will give many of our citizens desperately needed funds to survive, it will, at the same time, enrich others like my wife and me, who are fortunately not now in immediate financial danger.

While we are always grateful for more income, we feel uncomfortable taking what is for us “disposable” income from funds primarily intended to help people in need.  Accordingly, we have decided to donate our stimulus windfall where it will do more good: to not-for-profit organizations we support.

This is our choice, but one does not have to emulate that to make the stimulus work.

By simply spending the stimulus to purchase goods or services, we will put the stimulus funds into circulation as intended. Those who spend their shares of the stimulus will fuel our economy to help create jobs and spread the wealth. It will shower much needed water onto our nation’s economic intense flames.  

It may not put out the fire by itself, but it will buy our economy and our country much needed time to recover from the aftermath of the past four years and its outlandish QuackAnon /Twilight Zone conspiracy theories.

There is a time and place for everything. These are deeply troubled times.

If we don’t care for those in need, what is America all about? 

When All is Said and Done, History Will Tell the Tale.

When All is Said and Done,                History Will Tell the Tale.

April 17, 2020

Today the planet is in the midst of a deadly pandemic, an event that will have a prominent position in World History. It will chronicle the origin of the disease, its spread, and how we deal with a long period of mortal jeopardy amongst the world’s population.

As nations integrated into the global economy, international travel barriers fell giving rise to other global modes of agriculture, artistic expression, politics, sports, finance, communication, recreation, and other activities.  The resulting commerce put many people on “the go.” Hitchhiking on unknowingly infected travelers, COVID-19 spores rapidly scattered far and wide from the virus’s origin. Once ensconced on a continent the sickness spread with no regard for political power or borders. 

Clearly the nations of the world were poorly prepared to combat, control, and defeat this plague in its early stages.  This was despite years of warnings from medical professionals and research scientists that a global pandemic was on the horizon and it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” this potential tragedy would materialize.

Now that the pandemic is here, medical experts and politicians advise the best way to be safe and help others be safe, is to stay the hell away from one another for an as yet unspecified period. 

This modern-day plague has already taken a horrendous toll in lives, grief, and psyches around the world. Death statistics are expected to worsen before they peak in several population-dense areas across America. Other regions and nations of the world are wrestling against differing stages of the virus, depending both on when the disease arrived and the local wherewithal to combat it. Timing – as to when leaders grasped the urgency to take steps to control disease’s spread – is another differentiator. 

Shamefully few COVID-19 testing kits are available and breathing ventilators urgently needed by the most seriously inflicted are in short supply. While the virus has been free to blossom everywhere on the planet, its greatest hot spots have been the land of the free and the home of the brave – the single most advanced country in the world.

In hindsight it is beyond any doubt that America’s initial response to the pandemic was woefully political rather than scientific. Having shut down the country’s Office of Pandemic Planning years before, POTUS had no government experts to call on in this time of need. So, based solely on the wishful thinking that fuels his infamous ”gut instinct,” POTUS assured America in no uncertain words that the pandemic simply would never reach our shores.  When his fingers-crossed hope fell apart, he doubled-down on the fantasy with his equally-unfounded assurance that the situation was under control and that the disease would be isolated and defeated completely in a week or two.

Stumbling blindfolded with his pants around his knees he nonetheless proclaimed that his perfect response to the pandemic would be hailed as heroism in history.  

Pure Delusion

Meanwhile, despite the president’s premature proclamation that test kits were available to anyone who wants one, the kits were and are still in short supply. The truth is, he made up this “fact” on the fly; one of many that existed nowhere except in his personal arsenal of FAKE NEWS.  This lie was particularly pernicious because test kits are pivotal to knowing when it is safe to lift a quaranteen in a given area. Rather than taking steps to expedite test kit production it was easier and far less expensive to give short term false hope to Americans.  

His empathy is underwhelming.

Researchers are rushing to invent a safe and effective vaccine against this microscopic killer, but the most optimistic estimates anticipate one will not be available for at least six to twelve months.  In the meantime POTUS continues to stumble around.  One day he proclaims to be Constitutionally all powerful – the King and sole decision maker in the land.  The next day someone apparently pointed out to him that as King he would be primarily responsible for any and all failures in the long road back to normal. Accordingly, he spun 180 degrees and off-loaded the responsibility-laden authority to decide when and how to open the states to their respective governors. 

Now both POTUS and Sargent Schultz can safely say, “I know nothing” when accountability time rolls around.

Not to be left out, long after the fact we learn that the Multi Trillion Dollar Stimulus Package supposedly passed by Congress to help Americans pay for the necessities of life during this crisis, had a hidden trap door built in. Senate leader Mitch McConnell & Co added a provision that showers nearly $200,000,000,000  onto his wealthy but in some way impoverished corporate and personal supporters.  

Americans in mortal crises deserve the truth now more than ever.  How can anyone trust a president who has proven almost daily that he has no qualms about broadcasting convenient, self-serving lies? Likewise, how can anyone stomach a cynical, long time power broker who diverts funds intended for people in need to the contributors who own him?

But Still There Is Hope

At Long Last It’s 2020.

In November Let’s Make Truth & Justice the American Way Again.

 

 

A Feeling I’d Never Experienced

A Feeling I’d Never Experienced

Despite never having a dog of my own until manhood, I’m a lifelong dog lover.  Doris and I adopted my first dog, Brandy, three years after we wed. Brandy was a mixed breed one-year-old that we rescued from the local Humane Society.  She was a sweet dog, gentle with our babies and a spectacular Frisbee catcher who loved going airborne to pluck a disk out of the sky.

We loved Brandy for eight years before she passed away from a sudden debilitating disease.  It was a sad time for all of us.  I felt especially guilty that the poor dog spent so much of her days alone, waiting for one of us to come home from work or school.  It wasn’t fair to her. Like most dogs, she just craved attention but got too little from our family on-the-go.  I vowed not to get another dog until I could give it the time and attention it deserved.

As many who know me are aware, when Doris and I moved to Maine to start our early retirement, we got a miniature Australian Shepherd (a.k.a. American Shepherd) we named Charley.  He joined our lives at eight weeks old, nearly nine years ago. I craved to be a dog owner again and vowed this time I would do it right.  Charley has long been a full-fledged, card-carrying member of our family with almost all rights and privileges attendant thereto (except relieving himself indoors), and is similarly acknowledged by our daughter’s and son’s families.

Charley is my shadow and I’m his. Whenever possible, he goes where I go.  He has a disposition that, if emulated by most people, would make nuclear weapons and the United Nations obsolete.  He is bright, smiley, affectionate, playful, popular, obedient, patient and eager to like anyone he meets. He plays well with other dogs (he has a fascination with licking their ears for some reason) right up until they show an interest in his food bowl or try to be too friendly with me.

Charley is not just smart, he’s really smart. We were living on Orr’s Island in Harpswell, Maine when we brought Charley home from an upstate breeder in Litchfield.  Within less than a week, Charley (an eight week old ball of fur) knew to go to the front door to be let outside when he had to “go.” Our 400-foot driveway was a long and somewhat serpentine hill that ended in front of our house on Long Cove. For exercise (Charley’s, not mine) I would put a tennis ball into the socket of a “chucker” and throw the ball far up the driveway.  Charley would run up the hill, retrieve it, and bring it back to me so I could throw it for him again.  This lasted a few months before Charley changed the game.  One day, after running up the hill to retrieve the ball as usual, he started down the driveway but then stopped.  He looked down at me, tilted his head to one side, laid down on his stomach on the macadam, and rolled the ball down the hill to me. That was the way we played from then on. He figured it out all on his own and after a while had learned where to release the ball so that it didn’t fall off either side of the curves in the driveway.

When we moved from Maine to our present home, a condominium, we made sure we found one with a hill.

We never “crated” him – he’s always been welcome in our room on our bed any time.  Dog trainers (actually dog-owner trainers) ) were surprised at how quickly he learned and responded to commands. I easily trained him to come to me when I called him or whistled two specific notes.  Many folks in our neighborhood of more than 60 condominiums know and like Charley.

In early September 2019 we made our familiar hour-and-forty-five-minute trek to our daughter and son-in-law’s home to help care for three of our grandchildren (our son and daughter-in-law have #4) while ‘mom’ was away for three days.  Of course, Charley was with us.  Our eldest grandchild, four-year-old Maddy, had earlier explained to Hunni (Doris) and Pop (me) that while Charley lived with us, he was our dog, but when he was at their house Charley was their dog.

All went well.  I drove my daughter to the airport on Thursday evening and she returned safely late the following Sunday.  The kids were good all weekend and  Hunni and Pop were prepared to return home after breakfast on Monday. At 3:30 Monday morning, Charley woke Doris with the whimper he uses to let us know he’s got to “go.”  She forced her way from under the covers, turned on the light on Charley’s collar, flipped on the back yard light and opened the door for Charley to go relieve himself.

Our daughter’s back yard is fully fenced in and has three gates. I’d checked to make sure all three were closed when we arrived on Thursday, and found that one was ajar.  The fence is old and the latch on that particular gate doesn’t align well with the fence.  I force-straightened the gate so that the latch could close, gave it a shake to see if it held, and moved on when it did.

After five minutes Doris called for Charley to return, but he didn’t.  She asked me to try so I pulled on some warmer clothes and my sneakers, grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see why he didn’t answer Doris’s call.

He didn’t answer because he wasn’t there.

When I went to each of the gates to check the locks I found that the one I’d forced together had come apart, leaving just enough space for Charley to fit through.  I called for Charley and whistled the two tones from there, confident that he would come running back from wherever he was, as had happened almost always over the years.

This time, he didn’t come.

I felt panic rising from my heart when he didn’t answer my call.  I called louder as I walked beyond the fence and I started what turned out to be a two-day repetitive monologue asking God to help me find him. Aware that it was nearly 4:00 a.m. I tried to temper my calls of “Charley – Come” and started what must ultimately been hundreds of two-note whistles.

This wasn’t the first time Charley had disappeared, but it was the first time he had done it south of Maine.  When we lived in Maine we had three acres of woods of our own and access to trails along the shore that began about a hundred yards from the end of our driveway.  Charley and I used to walk those trails at least once a week.  He never strayed from me there, but on occasion he chased a deer or just followed a scent around into the woods.  Most times, when I bellowed “Charley, Come!” within a minute or two he’d come running to me full blast, with a big smile on his face and ears pinned back.

The few times he failed to come, I’d drive my pick-up within a radius of half mile of home calling for him.  In less than an hour I’d either find him or Doris would call me to say he’d come home.  Each time, though, I had to fight down the fear that I might never see him again.

And now, I was prowling the suburban streets near my daughter’s house in Warren, New Jersey, calling and whistling for Charley in the early morning dark, silently asking God to let me have him back.

I learned a fair amount about Social Media shortly after sunrise that Monday.  While I was illuminating front yards on both sides of the adjacent roads with my flashlight, Lauren had sent an all points bulletin about Charley on her neighborhood’s Facebook page. Later, cruising the roads in the early daylight, I saw a gathering of mothers and children waiting on a street corner for the school bus. As I slowed towards the intersection one of the mothers flagged me down to tell me that she saw the Facebook posting and that she had heard her neighbor’s dog barking early that morning.  She said this was a dog that normally didn’t bark.  I was impressed that this good lady knew about my lost dog and was deeply concerned about Charley.  I thanked her sincerely for the only tip I had so far.

Lauren also Messaged her cross street neighbors, including my tipster, to ask if I might  look in their back yards for Charley.  With 10 minutes all of them had responded ‘yes’ and wished us luck.  I spent an hour or so in those back yards but heard only the high pitched barking of the nice lady’s backyard neighbor’s little dog.

Meanwhile, Doris took up the vigil of waiting outside at Lauren’s to be there if and when Charley returned on his own.  After seeing our two granddaughters off to school, Lauren drove around the vicinity and suggested that I might want to go to the top of the steep mountainside that ended the backyards of the homes directly across the street.  She gave me the driving directions to the backside of the mountain (nothing like the Rockies, but steep nonetheless) to a forested area at its top.  When I zeroed out my car’s trip odometer I measured that the road into the woods was .8 of a mile.  I parked my car and walked about 2.5 miles traversing those woods.  By the time I returned to Lauren’s home I was worn out physically and emotionally. The day was approaching evening and the daylight that I’d hoped would reveal Charley was fading away.

Doris asked me to change places and let her drive around looking for him for a while.  I agreed, so she took the wheel and I took the vigil chair.  There I sat with a blanket wrapped around me like a cape, my arms crossed, head down, and eyes closed.  It was then, because I was alone, that I allowed myself to cry – deeper and painfully. There and then I resumed my monologue to God.  I pleaded through the tears with Him/Her to let me find Charley.

I’d long ago realized my vulnerability to the significant price of grief/pain I will pay if I survive Doris or, God forbid, any of my kids or grandkids.  It is the ultimately high cost of love.  After nearly nine years, I was beginning to feel the leading edge of pain from the present possibility of Charley’s loss – a loss compounded by the likelihood that we might never know how or why we lost him.

One might observe that I’d obviously lost my sensibilities and my priorities in caring for a dog this much. Those who ever had a dog are more likely to cut me some slack on that observation. If they knew Charley they’d probably understand even better. When my neighbors back home heard that we couldn’t find Charley, more than a few of them were moved to tears.  Our closest neighbor told me that her reaction was that it felt like she’d lost her brother.

I am one who believes we have/are immortal souls and love is a product of the mind, body, and soul.  I am convinced that the purpose of life is to carry and reinforce our souls.  The size and capabilities of souls many differ, but they are all immortal.  No one dies completely, not my parents, not my teachers or friends, not even the souls of my worst tormentors totally expire. I am convinced that Charley is also a soul because he is obviously capable of love.

It was in moments of dwindling hope that I might ever see Charley again that I was compelled to find the real reason he was gone.  What had I done to deserve this?  Somehow, I felt totally responsible for his disappearance. I ended that Monday trying to understand what I had to atone for.  I thought of one possible reason for God’s anger.  Despite knowing that God does not negotiate, I tried to strike up a deal with Him/Her over it.  Whether or not I could have Charley back, I vowed to banish that reason forever. I promised.  It was all I could think of to do beyond looking everywhere for him.

By nightfall I was drained, so I slept.

When I awoke on Tuesday I immediately checked the open garage and the back yard. My hope that he might have returned during the night was erased.

I knew that time was my enemy.  The longer Charley remained lost the less likely it became that we would find him.  Since failing to come home was against all of his characterized behavior, I could only think Charley was unable to come to us for some reason.  Had he been stolen?  Possibly, but who could have tried to take him at 3:30 in the morning? Had he been run over by a car or truck? Had he run down a deer and been kicked when it tried to defend itself?  This was a more plausible reason, but still not likely. Earlier in the year a bear was seen loping around my daughter’s neighborhood. The sightings were confirmed when the animal’s visits were caught on several home security cameras.  Had Charley fallen prey to some other animal in the woods?

With each click of the clock the situation became bleaker. My hope of finding him was dwindling as my despair was ramping up.  After another morning in the woods, this time armed with his squeaky toy, I returned to Lauren’s house having had no luck. In the privacy of the basement bedroom Doris and I used, I lied down and prayed to God to keep Charley safe.  Then I berated myself for wasting what time I had left to find him before returning home to Connecticut.  The idea of leaving without Charley was horrible, so I got out of bed and grabbed by car keys and the squeaky toy to continue my search.

Tim and Lauren’s home is on a dead end road. A 20-foot wide deer run separates the end of the street from the back yards of new houses under construction on another street. The deer run is perpendicular to the dead end of the street. I hadn’t yet ventured up that steep slope so I climbed half way up the hill and called for Charley while squeezing the toy for a half-hour, all to no avail.  By this time my mind and soul were just numb.  I had spent two days with the ugly notion that I might never see Charley again. Doris, Lauren and I had covered almost all of the territory where he might have been if he was not dead or dognapped.

As I drove my car back to the house, I noticed the neighbors’ houses and back yards where I had begun my search. At that moment a small hopeful feeling broke through the numbness and whispered that I should look there again.  This was the area described by the young woman who said her back yard neighbor’s dog had been barking in the early morning hours of Monday.  Her’s was the only lead I had, so I parked the car, picked up the squeaky toy and walked to the area I had traversed on Monday morning.

The back yards of the home of the barking dog and of my tipster faced one another, because the front of each house faced one of two parallel streets.  The yards were separated by a swathe of unattended foliage covering about 50 feet between the back yards of both houses. That area was a jumble of thick, waist-high vegetation.   When I waded into it I literally could not see my feet as they plodded through the territory.  All the while I continued calling for Charley and squeezing his toy after each call.

And then I heard his bark.

I squeezed the toy rapidly and told Charley to keep barking, which he did.  My adrenaline pumped the squeeze toy as I slogged in the direction of his wonderful barks. Soon I came upon a structure hiding in the sea of foliage.  It was an old, eight-feet square, seven-foot deep dry well, constructed of cement blocks.

I looked over the rim and saw Charley on its dirt floor, running in circles, yelping for all he was worth, and reaching up with his front paws as high as they could go to try to reach me!

Never before in my life had I encountered a moment when my psyche immediately sling-shot from deep despair to magnificent elation in the blink of an eye.  I cried tears of joy while laughing hysterically at the same time.  I shouted to the world and skies,“I found him! Dear God, I found him. I can’t believe it, I found Charley” It felt almost as though Charley had returned from the dead.

All this time he had been less than 300 yards from Lauren’s house.  I sat on the edge of the well and called her on my cell phone. “I found him!”

I told her exactly where we were and asked her to tell Doris and to bring a small ladder so we could get Charley out of that hole in the ground.  When I ended the call, I jumped into the well to pet him and hold him and share in our excitement of his having been found.  Charley was thirsty and hungry (in that order) but otherwise unscathed from his ordeal.  When I scaled the step-stool ladder and lifted him to Lauren, Charley was yelping and licking her face.  When he saw Doris coming across the yard he sprinted to her with a similar greeting.

Doris had brought one of our three grandkids with her. When two-year-old Goldy saw Charley running at top speed to get to them, she said, “Hunni (Doris) look! Charley loves me!”

She was right.

Epilogue

Since then:

I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I found my shadow again.  My gratitude is not limited only to the Heavens; it involves much more somehow. That moment of going from despair to joy was a gift that nudged my cynicism further away from my core, my soul.  Being so near to hopelessness and then having my most urgent supplication granted is an event beyond description.  The townspeople who were so wonderfully aware that Charley was missing and actively looked for him as they went for a run, or to the store and the like, gave me comfort and hope and reminded me what a real community can do.  Charley and our family are fully recovered from our ordeal.

And I do thank God everyday for life, love, family, friends, and Charley.

 

[How long] Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

[How long] Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

Roughly a month before Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States I published a blog that described my belief that he is and always has been a malignant narcissist. Accordingly I wrote that he would be not only unfit to be POTUS, but also a single-handed major threat on a global scale.  Sadly, my concerns were acutely warranted.

I am here reprising my blog of October 11, 2016, not as an ‘I tool you so,’ but to underscore the grave danger inherent in Trump’s continued occupation of the White House.

Can we survive another two years of a President who weighs every decision and/or action by how well it serves his personal agenda?  Can it be that he has taken steps to subvert and destroy NATO and lauded Putin as a role model because he wants to build a Trump hotel in Moscow?  Is the price of our national security that small?

With the Muller investigation’s report likely to be wrapped up in very soon, it is absolutely imperative that its findings are made public.  If Attorney General Barr fails to do so, it will be an indelible stain on his legacy.  He will join the long line of spineless Republican Trump enablers whom history will hold accountable for the aftermath of his presidency.

Below is my 10/11/16 blog..

 

Q: Can the world afford a Malignant Narcissist as President of the United States?

 A: Probably not, but let us not test the idea.

What is Malignant Narcissism?  Below is a bullet point rendition of Wikipedia’s definition.

As you read it, ask yourself, is this not Donald Trump?

 

“Malignant Narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of:

  • narcissism,  […no one loves Donald as much as the Donald does, and nothing that Donald does is intended to benefit anyone but Donald. His proposed tax break for the middle class is part of an overall tax strategy that would hand the wealthy top 10%  – including himself – a much bigger tax break.  Trump thrives on being in the limelight, disregards any inconvenient truth, and cannot acknowledge his mistakes to the point that, obviously contrary to his own best interests, he doubles-down on his numerous blatant blunders.]
  • antisocial personality disorder, […does bragging about being able to grab any woman’s crotch simply because he is The Donald qualify?  He has absolutely no respect nor an ounce of empathy for anyone but himself.]
  • aggression[…he sues everyone who dares to cross his path, is a misogynist, a bigot, and indiscriminatly intimidates any who might be in his way] and
  • sadism […refusing to pay workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and the act of firing someone are among many harmful situations that seem to give Donald great pleasure].
  • Often grandiose, […he genuinely thinks his five-letter name should be valued at more than a billion dollars per letter, nuff said?] and
  • always ready to raise hostility levels […like the schoolyard bully, he will pick on anyone he thinks is weaker than himself.],
  • the malignant narcissist undermines organizations in which they are involved […can America afford this?] , and
  • dehumanizes the people with whom they associate” [Women, Mexicans and Other Hispanics, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Political and Business Opponents,  etc., etc.].

Power in the hands of a malignant narcissist is extraordinarily dangerous. The malignant narcissist does not want to lead, but to rule. Most of those who fought to depose the last major malignant narcissist ruler over 50 years ago are no longer with us.  Few are left who saw first-hand how dangerously evil a popular conniving malignant narcissist can be.

Donald Trump’s candidacy presents danger to the world, and many world leaders know it.  His bluster, reversals of expressed opinions, personal slanders, and complete disregard of truths that are in conflict with his desires, make him unreliable, untrustworthy, and insanely volatile.  These attributes might be useful in gaining the upper hand in business negotiations, but it is a terrible mix when dealing with leaders of other sovereign nations that have national pride and military options.  Putin would love to play with someone who thinks Twitter is a great political forum.  Trump’s buttons are easy to see and easy to push.  All it takes to make him totally irrational is to insult him personally. (Have you noticed that he never says he was “attacked.”  Any assault on his character or comments is a “vicious attack.”  Apparently in his self-absorbed mind having the temerity to attack Donald Trump must be vicious.) 

Do you really want Donald Trump in charge of our nuclear arsenal?

Beyond Frightening – Simply Unacceptable.

We are in these seriously dangerous waters largely because for the last six years the Republican-controlled Congress chose to abdicate it’s responsibilities and freeze the government to undermine the remainder of Obama’s two-term presidency. Trump’s popularity is the genuinely frustrated but reckless grass roots response to the uncompromising leadership of Congress.  Perhaps Republican incumbents in both houses who are running for re-election as “down-ticket” candidates under Trump’s name this year will suffer for their intentional and petty gridlock.*

The last political malignant narcissist who rose to power on a wave of an indignant grass roots backlash nearly destroyed their world and ours.  Luckily, he didn’t quite have access to atomic weaponry.

The next one will.

Main St. Disney is Wall St. Disney

Main St. Disney is Wall St. Disney

I have been a huge Disney World fan for several decades.  I loved going there, my kids loved going there, and even my wife loved going there (the first 6 or 7 times, but not so much the 13 times after that).  Now my kids have babies and I‘ve been looking forward to going to Disney World with them when they’re old enough to appreciate it so I can see the park through their new eyes on their first trip there.

Despite it’s being my best childhood dream, I never got to Disney Land as a kid (there was no Disney World at the time), but I made up for it as an adult. I realized shortly after my first trip to Orlando that Disney World was a place where I could escape Rest of the World both mentally and physically.  Stress disappeared and the only objective for each day was to have more fun.  I never counted, but I’d estimate that over a span of 30 years I’ve been to Disney World at least 20 times. (Extending a business trip for a day, I finally fulfilled the childhood dream by spending a full day in Disney Land in 1995.)

There are lots of folks who have been there many times more often.  It was my treasured escape, until today.

Today Bernie Sanders sent me and scads of his other admirers an e-mail asking us to sign a petition in support of the many Disney employees who have been shamefully treated by the Company.  My first whiff of the tarnish on Mickey’s statue came when a neighbor/friend told me that his son had just been fired without warning or cause from his job as a singer in Epcot.  That couldn’t be right. That wasn’t Disney, it was Rest of World.  I filed that a away in my “there has to be more to it” file, but today Bernie’s light shining on the corporate side of Disney moved that file into the “could well be” drawer.

I can’t tell the story better than Bernie Sanders did, so I pasted an abbreviated version of his call for help here:

The Walt Disney Company is an enormously profitable corporation worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 billion. Last year, it made $9 billion in profits and rewarded its CEO, Bob Iger, with a compensation package worth up to $423 million over a four year period. And as a result of the Trump tax cuts, they were given an additional $1.6 billion.

At the same time — and this is a national disgrace — employees at the company’s theme park in Anaheim, California are paid so poorly that many of them are literally living in a tent city not far from the park.

According to one recent study, nearly 1 in 10 workers employed at the park reported being homeless in the past two years, more than 2 in 3 say they are food insecure, and 3 out of 4 employees say they do not make enough money for their basic needs.

This is not what Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are supposed to be about. This does not sound like the “happiest place on Earth” to me.

Now, I could be wrong, but I don’t expect you will see the plight of these low-wage workers at Disney discussed tonight on ABC, which is owned by Disney. Nor do I think you will be hearing too much about income and wealth inequality in the mainstream media….

It is long past time that we, as a nation, stop worshipping the corporate greed of Disney and businessmen like Bob Iger, their CEO.

While he may be regarded as a brilliant and successful businessman among his peers in the financial, media, and political elite, the truth is that the way Bob Iger and Disney treat their workers represents much of what is wrong with contemporary capitalism.

This is a company, and a CEO, that accepted an obscene tax cut gifted to them by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, publicly promised to anyone who would listen a $1,000 bonus for all of their employees, and then withheld that bonus from some union employees unless they agreed to a contract that gave them a tiny raise to a wage that is still a starvation wage.

This is a company, and a CEO, that in addition to paying their workers here at home extremely low wages, employs many thousands of people in China to manufacture their products sold at Disney stores and online.

This type of greed and ruthless capitalism is not an economic model that we should be embracing. It is not to be celebrated. We can do better, and we must do better…

 

It’s me again. Speaking only for myself, it pains me deeply to realize and say that Disney must do better to earn the respect and interest I once had in this once great Company.  I happen to be a Disney Shareholder, but not one with the wherewithal that the company would take seriously.  I can only hope that others, shareholders and/or Disney enthusiasts, who find this uncharacteristic greed disconcerting will sign Bernie’s petition.  I did.  Maybe the petition will get their attention.

It feels to me as though Mickey has lost his soul.

https://go.berniesanders.com/page/s/disney-greed?source=em180531-t1-full

 

Student Loans: The Gift that Keeps on Taking

Student Loans:                                                 The Gift that Keeps on Taking

I am increasingly concerned about what appears to be strategic planning on the part of some of the 1%.  Of course the plans don’t bode well for the rest of us.  Their objective involves the systematic killing of the American Dream of home ownership to create a new, steady and significant cash flow into their already overflowing coffers for decades ahead.

Here’s how I see it:

America will always need highly educated workers and tradespeople, but the cost of a college education or a technical school is very high and spiraling out of reach for middle class families, and even more so for those close to either side of the poverty line. Many institutes, colleges and universities are well endowed and offer scholarships that defray some of the tuition and cost of living burden on students, but the portion of these costs that are not covered by scholarships and grants are still substantial.

In order to make ends meet, more and more students have no choice but to take a out student loan – the gift that keeps on taking.

When many students graduate, the value of the degrees they earned is likely more than offset by the student loans they owe. They begin their careers saddled with five or six figures of debt that is often comparable to the cost of a nice home.  In essence, they have a mortgage without a dwelling and there’s no way out of that pile of debt in less than a decade unless one wins a lottery. Unlike many other loans and obligations, college loans are not forgiven (erased) when one declares bankruptcy.  In other words, someone took great care to keep these people bottled up for several years.

I have noticed over the years that many real estate developers, especially in big cities and suburbia, are building far more apartments and other rental units than they are condominiums or “starter homes.”  I wondered why, and then considered what they might be up to.

The student-loan-laden graduates have begun to earn good money in the marketplace.  But with the equivalent of a monthly mortgage to pay off student loans before paying other bills, including rent, these folks have little if any funds to save for a down payment on a home.  The rents they pay are like a second mortgage, only they are building no equity when they pay it.  Who is the beneficiary of the equity in this transaction?  The landlords (who are often the developers and/or financiers of the projects).

This generation of young professionals and skilled tradespeople are in a tough spot if they want to eventually own a home.  Rents look more and more like mortgage payments without the benefits.  What incentive is there for these people that could make a mortgage payment more attractive than a rent payment?

Until this year, there was such an incentive. Interest payments on mortgages used to be tax deductible, but they aren’t under the golden haired wonder’s “tax reform.”  Not only did the Republicans (many of whom are basically owned by the 1% profiteers) hand over more than 80% of the benefits built in their tax reform to the 1%,  at the same time they drove another nail in the coffin of the American Dream to own a home. No 20% down payment plus no tax deduction of mortgage interest equals no compelling reason to try to own a home.  They have few viable alternatives but to be renters.

This, and the last minute packet of special incentives for Real Estate Developers that was packed into the tax legislation in the 11th hour as a reward to the golden haired boy and his ilk, is too coincidental not to stink of collusion.

Within the next 20 – 30 years in America, landlords will have enjoyed an enormous captive marketplace and a great deal of influence in the quality of life for Americans.  Their strategy is largely already in place, and until and unless the tax codes in America are repaired, they will no longer be one of the only means by which the insane distribution of wealth in America can be changed.  The “let them eat cake” attitude of turning a blind eye to financial oppression is a time tested recipe for ugly, catastrophic revolution.

The Reason I Call Them “Repugnicans”

The Reason I Call Them “Repugnicans”

Donald Trump – the President who never released his income tax returns, and never will –  has been among the architects of a sweeping Republican Tax “Reform” Bill. Amazing. The hastily written and largely unread 1,000 + page Bill will give the typical taxpayer a small amount of relief for a while, but first and foremost it is designed to feed the insatiable greed of global corporations and the top 1%. Analysts calculate that super-rich will reap 80% of the benefits of the tax reductions in this new “reform.” These are the same folks who have already been favored by countless loopholes that have provided the 1% unique abilities to shield their riches from taxation under the old structure. This is not a “Reform” it’s a “Repeat” of Reagan & Bush policies that created and nurtured the huge divide between the 1% and the rest of us in America.

Why does anyone in his right mind think that this is good for America?

The Repugnican strategy is no secret. They have the best interests of their masters to serve. Their underlying policy is “Lets make those who earn less pay more, so that we can let those whose money ‘earns’ money pay less.” The Repugnicans, who were so worried about the deficit throughout the Obama years, suddenly have spun 180 degrees with Twitter-Don in office and magically proclaim the National Debt is no problem at all, in fact it can easily take on another $1.4 TRILLION of debt! This is supposed to be good for America?

Think about it for a minute, Ryan’s and McConnell’s Repugnicans are willing to take out a new $1.4 Trillion loan in the nation’s behalf in order to GIVE the 1% rich 80% of that money on a silver platter. That means the 1% get another $1,120,000,000 to make sure they stay stinking rich. What’s left over will be spread unevenly in small bits among the remaining 95% on a sliding scale regressing as income brackets decrease. That way most of the rest of us aren’t completely left out (except the already poor, of course).

Trump/Ryan/McConnell fervently hope that the middle class who get the crumbs under the 1%’s table will fall for the charade that they are our champions. They remain consistent in their belief that they really have no reason or interest to help the poor.

These grifters are saddling us with a $1.4 Trillion ‘Bill’ that will need to be paid. As things stand now, it won’t be paid by Mr. Trump’s Platinum American Express Card, nor on the card of any other person bloated with wealth. Oh no, Ryan and McConnell couldn’t let that happen to the sugar daddies who put them in office and have made them wealthier and more powerful than their wildest dreams. Their tax “Bill” will become our burden. The 99% of folks, many of whom already had to max out their Visa and Mastercard accounts in order to feed their families, will get stuck with the Bill.

Repugnicans want to buy our votes with pennies while they and their masters harvest more piles of money and power than anyone could ever spend.

Was anyone surprised when, in the 11th hour the Repugnicans quietly slipped into their sure-to-be-passed Tax structure one last provision that, surprise, surprise, provides extra tax benefits for Real Estate Developers. I think this provision should have its own name, The Donald Trump Screws America Again clause. That lying sack of excrement had the nerve to tell his “base” of followers that he is going to be hammered by this Tax Reform and that many of his fellow 1%’ers are very unhappy with him. Riiiiiiiiight. This tax reform is shoveling boat loads of money into Donald’s family’s pockets there is NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. His lies could not be bigger.

Wake up. This is only phase one. Trump and his Repugnicans are gearing up to drain, not the swamp, but the US Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that every day Americans have earned and count on and that those less fortunate need desperately.

The Repugnican Congress is setting the stage to steal what rightfully belongs to real Americans. Somewhere along the line folks seem to have forgotten that when someone in a democracy is entitled to Social Security and Medicare, that “entitlement” is something that people have rightfully worked for, paid for and is due them. Social Security and Medicare are not items of government spending! They are bank accounts owned by people who had to make mandatory deposits into them during their working years. The national budget needs to differentiate between Operating Assets and the People’s Retirement Savings.

The record of Congressional theft of Social Security and Medicare funds to pay the debts Congress incurred for the country is long and shameful. And if we Americans don’t do something about it, it will be continued big time soon.

The overwhelmed and nearly powerless poor will remain Public Enemy #1 in the minds of the Repugnican national legislators. Medicaid, food, shelter, education, and other crucial programs that serve people in need are in the middle of the Bull’s Eye of the hypocrites who will look to take down “government spending.” Only the most reckless government spenders in the land, the military, will be not just exempt from cut backs, but the beneficiaries of several billions of dollars more to play with. The cost of toilet seats in the Pentagon has risen again to what, a thousand dollars each?

It’s time to for us to swamp these brazen bandits with the power of our votes. Let’s take them under. Vote for no one who refuses to sign a sacred pledge to make any diversion of Social Security and Medicare funds from their original intended purposes illegal and punishable under Federal Law. Vote for no one who would take sustenance away from any of our countrymen and women.   Vote for no one who refuses to recognize that the current distribution of wealth in America is absurd, threatens the core of republic, and needs to be changed in our tax system quickly.

If the 99%, don’t stop them, who will?

I have a cold…again

I have a cold…again

I have a cold…again.

I hate having a cold.  This one started just two weeks after my last cold finally left my system.   I’ve been cycling through colds separated by brief hiatuses (hiatusi?) for several months now.

It’s not hard to figure out why.  It’s an occupational hazard. Two and a half years ago, I was shanghaied into a new job.  Grand-parenting.  My official title is “Grandfather,” but never one to stand on ceremony, I prefer the  informal, “Pop.”

For the first 63 years of my life, I was not qualified for this job.  My resume was strong but it lacked one absolutely-mandatory-no excuses-accepted qualification – a grandchild. I was an honorary Grandfather, a title I still proudly hold, but in order to qualify for the bona-fide Grand Certificate and the 401K opportunity* that come with the real thing, I needed one more credit.

*[Update: I just learned there’s no 401K opportunity, but I’m expected to establish a College Fund for each grandchild. Shanghaied again.]

Finally, in late 2014 my wife Doris and I were invested with full rights, privileges and responsibilities of Grandparenthood. Our names were added to the on-line version of the Official Grandparents Directory/ US Division/ New-bees Chapter: www.diaper-changers (the national equivalent of the British Division’s famous www.nappy-changers).

There are now three acorns after my name and Doris’s.  So far all of our acorns reside under one roof.  For  good reasons, Doris and I were enlisted for temporary duty to assist in acorn management under that roof.   At least for the time being, we are a household of seven family members, two of  whom typically labor weekdays nine-to-five in “Day Care.” (Their artwork and paper hats can be stunning.)

I’ve learned that it is wise to inquire as to how many other acorns are in a Day Care. The chance that one of our acorns will catch another one’s cold and bring it home for us all to share is inextricably related to the number of acorns there. We are vulnerable to colds incubated in Day Care for export as well as the home-grown kind. Only a miracle combined with a total ban on kissing might break the cycle of colds passed around in our present environment.

Tired of grabbing tissues to clear mucus from my stiff upper lip, I recently decided to buy an over-the-counter cold remedy.  I was amazed at the number and variety of cold remedies on Walgreen’s shelves.  Each item’s label listed the specific combination of symptoms that the remedy was supposedly designed to manage: congestion, headache, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, general aching, fever, sleep deprivation, halitosis.

(Okay, one of these wasn’t among any product’s targeted symptoms – can you find it?)

Amazingly, each product touted its prowess with typically only three or four among the universe of cold symptoms.  I found not one product claiming to relieve all cold symptoms; the most I saw was five.

I guess if you have six or more symptoms you should go to the hospital, not the drug store.

Before going out to buy a cold remedy, I suggest you should list and prioritize your symptoms.  Not including the mystery entry, my list of ailments two paragraphs ago names nine different cold symptoms.  Among products with labels advertising special effectiveness for three symptoms, there are exactly 84 possible combinations of three symptoms that could be offered. (So says a permutation calculator on the Internet.  Impressed?)

This inventory of 84 possibilities is considerably more than the 50 or so cold relief products on Walgreen’s shelves.  I suspect some odd combinations of symptoms, like headache, general aching, and halitosis, didn’t make the cut.  Nonetheless, if you are hunting for a remedy to cure your three most acute symptoms, your hay stack is 84 differing three-symptom combinations and the needle you seek, may not even be in a store that stocks only 50 or so combinations.

Make sure to bring your glasses when you go to buy; symptoms listed on the front of the package are alphabetized on some labels, but not all. No uniform code of for symptom labels addresses this issue.  Finding a package claiming to have been made for your three priority symptoms could take some time. Plan accordingly.

Alternatively, however, you can look at the lists of ingredients in the various products, like I did. There you may be surprised to find, despite the symptoms listed on the front labels, most of the mainstream cold products list the exact same active ingredients in the exact same proportions!

So why do manufacturers put the same ingredients in so many different bottles?  Well, if you see a product that appears to specialize in Runny Nose, Sneezing, and Congestion, and those are your symptoms of greatest concern at the moment, wouldn’t you choose it over other products touting their effectiveness against symptoms you don’t have?  If you don’t know the pills are essentially all the same, wouldn’t you be willing to pay more for a product that appears to have been customized specifically for YOUR symptoms? Wouldn’t that increase the product’s profit margins?

In the end, it appears that the only thing associated with a cold remedy that has been customized is its label. 

This slick trick is a shining example of American Marketing Ingenuity at the Top of its Game.

This is what Makes Money for investors, which is what Makes America Great.  

Let’s see China, Russia or North Korea top that!