The Commitment

Most standard dictionaries define commitment as a promise to do or give something–an adherence to which one is bound by a pledge or duty. In our everyday lives, we make routine promises to pick up the kids from school, to pay the electric bill, to bake a pie, and to feed our dogs. However, the pandemic has caused many rational folk to behave in surrealistic irrational ways. Now, as we enter the “most wonderful time of the year”–the holiday season, we must hit the pause button. It is time to stand in our mirror and admit COVID, Q-Anon, and Irresponsibility are the enemies. We must commit to being part of the solution, not fueling the myriad of problems we face.

Whether it be one’s religious or mythical beliefs about the holiday season, we need to forget naughty and be nice. We need to be patient and kind. We need to be thankful for what we have, and if we can, we need to help others.

Even though I’m a white-knuckled flyer, I appreciate the convenience of leaving Phoenix at breakfast and arriving in Pittsburgh for late lunch/early dinner–a trip by car, which would take 3-4 days. Thanksgiving is just days a way; according to some, the busiest air travel days of the year. True to form, Mother Nature may wreck havoc with storms. Airlines may experience delays and glitches. But that does NOT require passengers to punch flight attendants, nor disobey their safety protocols.

Further most businesses face a severe employee shortages. Black Friday will jam retail stores. Restaurants and bars may have long-waiting lines. Inclement weather may clog the highways. Commit to be patient, kind, and understanding. But most of all, be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.

THE Gift

As the holiday season is upon us, many folk shop for THE gift–the one present that lights up the receiver’s face. The surprise that makes the receiver dance with joy. Of course, shopping for children is easy, once their letters to Santa have been perused. While, of course, when my kids were young, they also got necessaries, like a new toothbrush and underwear. But their elation over a new bicycle, a puppy, or a talking doll was unequaled when compared to a robe or slippers.

Gift giving for adults is much harder. Though I strive to buy one present, which knocks off one’s socks, most adults don’t share their wish list with others. As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying people. My observations help me create characters to advance the plot. The better I know a person, the more genuine my gift. Yet, most of the time, I take the easy way out a buy gift cards.

Last week, though, I needed to up my game. My PCP (primary care physician) and his office manager wife are also members of our trivia team. Not only, can I always get a same day appointment, a prescription, or a blood test, they are just a text message away on weekends. I had to give them something to express my sincerest appreciation. Curiously, they both are frequent users of the quarter candy machine at the bar where we play trivia. Hot tamales and M&M’s are among their favorites.

Last night, another team member and I delivered their own, home candy machine, complete with three of their favorite candies. Never have I seen two, more jazzed adults. They beamed like children gazing at Santa’s delivery, as they enthusiastically filled each container with treats. Then, they both went in search of quarters to try it out.

When we left their house, we waved goodbye to the two big grins. Mission accomplished.

The Day of the Pigs

As a child, I had the best of both worlds. During the week, I lived with my parents in the city–a city that then had good public schools, lots of restaurants, and three-floor department stores downtown. On the weekends, we spent a great deal of time on my grandparents’ farm. There were cows, chickens, a pony, pigs, dogs, and six or eight barn cats. There were occasional snakes, the creek was filled with tadpoles and frogs. Sometimes there were foxes and deer. And in the spring, rabbits and groundhogs were abundant.

My grandparents had a large garden in addition to their fields of corn, oats, wheat, and alfalfa hay. I learned to plant and hoe, can and freeze, pick apples and blueberries. I learned to drive the tractor, bag oats and corn for the feed mill, lift hay and straw bales, and even tap a maple tree to boil into syrup. At an early age, I witnessed the birth of calves and kittens, the hatching of eggs, the ringing of pig snouts. And I even watched while my grandmother chopped off the heads of chickens with a hatchet. Not for the faint-hearted, as indeed, chickens do run around after losing their heads!

Once during the late summer, my younger brother and I spent a week at the farm. I suspect our parents wanted a week alone with our one or two-year-old sister. (Believe me, my brother, Bruce, and I would rather be at the farm too.) “Suzanne, tomorrow the pigs will be sent to the butcher. You and Bruce are to stay in the house, when they come to pick up the pigs. I’ll be outside, when they arrive. You supervise Bruce in the house. Suzanne, do you understand?” Grandma must think I’m deaf.

I received the message…but why? We had free rein of the farm to roam the fields, search for kittens in the hay mow, catch frogs. Why did we have to stay in the house?

When I saw the big truck pull in the gravel driveway and my grandmother greet them, I said, “Bruce, come on, let’s go. They’re here to pick up the pigs.”

“But grandma said no, ” he whined.

“Come on, if you’re going, or stay inside by yourself.”

We snuck into the barn and cracked the door that faced the pig pen. My unsuspecting grandmother had no idea we had front row seats! One by one each pig was felled by a shotgun blast. Another guy methodically slit their throats. Blood spurted and gushed across the sty. My stomach lurched, “Bruce let’s go, before grandma finds us.”

When grandma came back to the house, she found her innocent grandkids coloring. She didn’t notice my pale green, about-to-barf face. Thankfully, Bruce didn’t blurt out where we’d been. My grandmother was right; we should have stayed inside. Sixty-five years have passed and have failed to erase my images of the day the pigs died.

The Sucker List

Earlier this week, I ran into my friend, Jane, at the grocery store. “Hey, I barely recognized you, Sue, behind your mask.”

“I’ve had 3 shots, but I wear a mask in the case there are others who are ill. I wrote a blog about your mother being scammed out of $5,000 a few weeks ago. No names, just about her grandson needing life-saving surgery during spring break in Mexico.”

“Sue, I need you to write another about my mother-in-law.” Jane talked and I listened. Her m-i-l receives 20-30 pieces of mail per day. The vast majority of them are requests for donations to their alleged non-profits. Each request includes a pen, a sticker, a magnetic calendar, or address labels. Even though, this woman’s income barely manages to pay the rent, she’s so moved by their request and free gift, she sends a $5.00 check.

Thus, Jane and her husband took away the checkbook. Yet, the nonagenarian was not deterred. She sends cash. Yesterday, Jane took lunch to her mother-in-law and saw her outgoing mail. “Mom, I’ll take your mail to the post office for you. Is that ok with you?” After an affirmative response, Jane stuffed two envelopes in her purse. When she got home, she opened them. Each held $25 in cash!

At Jane’s request, I did some research. In 1941, Crime Doesn’t Pay movie short coined the term: Sucker List–gullible folk, who bet the entire savings on “sure thing” horse races. And now, 80 years later, the Sucker List is a sophisticated way to lure the elderly into donating copious amounts to random charities. (Note charity is usually not what it appears to be. It’s a scam! No one should surmise cash donations end up in a bank.) Sucker Lists are sold to other scammers. If an elderly person receives multitudes of such mail, rest assured, he/she is on THE LIST!

The more I researched; the more outraged I became. Certainly, there must be ways to combat the Nigerians (well-known for this charade) and/or other shysters. The first and most obvious problem is that age is public record. If you have a landline, look yourself up on the White Pages and your age is displayed. Many internet searches also display age. How do you think marketeers target teens, newly weds, retirees, etc? Secondly, donate to a well-known charity several times, and you end up on the Sucker List. The same is true of mail-order catalogs. Buy once from Jackson’s and the ads multiply. My mom’s apartment was crammed full of shoe, dress, holiday catalogs.

However, there are several websites which verify the legitimacy of charitable organizations. One is The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving that offers info about national charities. Its phone is: 703-276-0100. Web site : http://www.give.org/reports/index.asp As a word of caution, many victims of a scam refuse to believe they’ve been duped. Certainly, understandable given the current tenor of this country where people believe science, climate change, and election results are fake news.

But Jane has the ultimate solution! Scrutinize and verify every application for a nonprofit mailing status. Regular folk currently pay 55 cents to mail a letter, while bulk rate, non profits is about a nickel. Now, I’ve read the requirements to receive such a benefit and realize it’s rather simple to circumvent the rules. Jane, though, is relentless in her effort to mitigate this problem. She’s gathering firsthand accounts and examples to present to her US Senator. If you can help her, message me for her contact information. Thanks.

Facebook Challenges

While Facebook continues to be scrutinized and subject to criticism, I personally find it useful and amusing. I’ve reconnected with so many folks I lost track of fifty or sixty years ago. Our paths would have never crossed; I’d not seen pictures of their families, pets, or travels. I’d not known their thoughts on controversial issues. In fact, unfortunately, I also see posts of illness, tragedy, and even death.

My high school class and the three universities I attended all have Facebook pages, which keep me informed with interesting articles. My school district’s Facebook page celebrates the many accomplishments of our students. Some of their UTube videos are both entertaining and informative. In sum, I believe Facebook pioneered the power of social media in shrinking the size of the world.

Unlike the outrageous and totally out-of- control challenges on Tik Tok, I find some of the tame Facebook ones, like: I Bet You Can’t annoying. One would have to be a moron to fail. For instance, I Bet You Can’t: Name a US state with no A. (You can if you’re from Ohio or Wyoming.) No girl’s name starts with T and ends in A, prove me wrong. (Duh, the list is endless: Tina Teresa, Tabitha, Tatia, yada yada yada.) Name a fish without an A. (Stupid–trout, grouper, eel. Blah, blah, blah.)

What I can’t understand is why people wast time on such foolishness. Now, of course, I can’t be bothered to solve the math problems, but there are more intelligent questions to raise. Name the states who’s capital starts with the same letter as its state. Hint: There are 4. Think about that instead of a boy’s name without an O in it. Hint: It’s not Robert!

One ringy dingy, two ringy dingys….

Some of you are far too young to remember Lily Tomlin as Ernestine, the telephone operator, on the TV show Laugh In. Ernestine spent her shift sticking chords in a huge switchboard to connect calls to each other with caustic snarky quips. One of her classic lines was: We’re the telephone company, and we don’t care.

For years mischievous kids delighted in making prank calls or worse. My elderly grandmother once received an obscene phone call. The male caller explicitly told her how he was going to ravage her body. My grandmother shouted into her phone: What? What did you say? I can’t hear you. Of course, the sleaze hung up on her.

Though we’ve come a long way from the antique switchboard and cell phones revolutionized the phone industry, telecommunications morphed into a new era of annoyance. Caller ID is more sophisticated; both my house and cell phone announce who is calling, but why should/would I answer a call from Anonymous, Unidentified, Private, or Unknown? Let alone some random place like Kodak, WV. Every once in a while, a message is left–usually, I’m going to jail for non-payment of income tax, my credit card has been compromised, or my computer needs updated. All scams. In the last several months, my cell phone has been receiving the car warranty expiration bull shit. I was so aggravated I decided to play along. “Oh, my car warranty is expiring? Which one?”

“You know, ma’am, your car.”

“No, I don’t know. Which car? I have over a hundred on my car lot right now, so which one?” He promptly hung up.

Unfortunately, some people fall victim to these scams, or why would we continue to get these calls? I know of one case where the mother of one of my friends received a call her grandson had been badly injured in a car accident in Mexico. Without cash, the life-saving surgery could not be performed. Sadly, Grandma wired $5,000 to the requested address. The next day, she called her daughter to check on Billy. “He’s right here, Mom. Do you want to talk to him?”

Hold on a minute, someone’s leaving a message on the answering machine…. Hallelujah! My mortgage has been approved! What mortgage? I didn’t apply for one. And secondly, no one lends money to an unemployed, old broad on Social Security. Mortgages must be the new scam.

Am I Losing It?

As a septuagenarian, my greatest fear has nothing to do with my physical health. I worry most about losing my mind. I was always in awe of Steven Hawking, confined to a wheelchair, with a myriad of physical disabilities, yet he was brilliant. My mind is the only thing that distinguishes me from a blob of protoplasm. Some will argue, “I’d rather walk than spend my life chained to a wheelchair or lying in bed. Just imagine how many new people I’d meet each day.” Not me. I’d rather lie in bed and be able to recognize my kids, to wish my nurse Merry Christmas, or to read a book.

This week I had my annual physical. Of course, these days it’s called The Annual Medicare Physical–one of the government’s new bureaucracies, which translates as mounds of both physician and patient paperwork.

“Sue, I’m going to say three words: umbrella, typewriter, and guitar. We’re going to continue with the exam, and in five or so minutes I’ll ask you to repeat umbrella, typewriter, and guitar. Got it?”

I’ll spare you the details of poking and probing, but then he looked at my knee. “Dr. A, I have bursitis and maybe a Baker’s cyst.”

“Correct diagnosis, Dr. Sue. Shall I order an MRI? Are you contemplating a knee replacement?”

“Absolutely not. If it gets worst I’ll have a D and C!”

“D and C?”

“Isn’t that what arthroscopic knee surgery is–a dusting and cleaning out?”

He laughed, “And what are the three words?

Even though twenty minutes had passed, I vomited back umbrella, typewriter, and guitar.

“You know, Sue, this simple exercise is well-researched and has be proven in numerous studies to be over 95+% accurate. You show no signs of Alzheimer’s. If you’d missed one or two, I’d ask you more questions. If you missed all three, I’d refer you for more extensive evaluation.”

With the exam concluded and the flu shot given, I completed the inane Medicare questionnaire. Some or hundreds of random data bases now know I have banisters on my stairs, I walk without assistance, I can dress myself, and I still drive. Yet, I smiled all the way to my parked car. “I’m still with the program. I am sane. Hard to imagine three words can have such an accurate assessment.”

Damn it! Where are my glasses?

The Hypocrisy of Choice

“I’m not anti-vaccine. I don’t tell people ‘You shouldn’t get the shot.’ But when it comes to my body, it’s my choice about what I want to put in my body.”

The speaker of this quote was a male, 36-year veteran of a NC police force, who resigned when it was mandated he get the COVID vaccine. In 1972, Helen Reddy rocked I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, and today Dr. Suze is roaring. The whole debate about efforts to stem the COVID pandemic centers on one word: CHOICE. One would have to be a slumbering Rip Van Winkle to have not heard folk consistently say, “It’s my choice to get the vaccine. It’s my choice to wear/not wear a mask. It’s my choice to drink bleach or take cow dewormer.” I totally get it.

Yet, a bunch of male bureaucrats have legislated women have NO choice. To me that’s not only hypocritical, but absurd. First of all, save Mary Magdalene, no woman ever got pregnant without a male sperm. Sadly, a number of men skip out on their responsibilities for providing financial and social/emotional support for their children. Over three million US women left the work force due to lack of child care during the pandemic.

Viewed as the weaker sex or even chattel, women are victims of rape. In fact, in Phoenix last year a young nursing home, comatose patient was raped repeatedly by a male nursing assistant. The patient’s parents were absolutely shocked when they learned she was in labor! Due to drug abuse by the father, the baby has a myriad of insurmountable problems. And Childrens’ Services in any of the 50 states investigate horror stories of unwanted, unplanned offspring.

Further, all fetal medical issues are not determined by the random 6-week period. “Amniocentesis is offered to women between the 15th and 20th weeks of pregnancy who are at greater risk for birth defects.” (Johns Hopkins Medicine.) Some of these children suffer such delibilitating effects they live out their 40-50 years in skilled nursing facilities.

My intent is not to debate your religious, nor ethical beliefs. But allow me to make my own choice about my body. Don’t insult me by passing a law about my body. None of you are privvy to my situation if I make that choice. You can’t have it both ways. Choice is Choice. And excuse me, sir, your hypocrisy is showing.

The Only Source of Knowledge…?

Albert Einstein posited, “the only source of knowledge is experience.” While many folk will agree with Einstein, some will counter: “I don’t need to set my hand on a stove burner to know it’s hot, nor do I have to sail around the world to know it’s not flat. I am educated! And I read.”

In essence, both are true. So why the conundrum about the COVID vaccines? Yes, throughout history folk have rebelled against both smallpox and DPT (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), but over time, generations of people never questioned the value of those injections. Thus, I’ve concluded eventually the anti-COVID vax followers will die, and future generations will not think twice about another shot.

My very intuitive, youngest, creative kid and I had a conversation about the conundrum this week. My position: with a US literacy rate for those over 15 of 99%, people can read the vaccine can prevent serious illness and/or death. Her position: the doubters have never been really ill. They view the bedside confessions of those who wish they’d been vaccinated as fake news.

Hmm. I have to think about that. Her words. “Mom, they’ve never experienced what we did. They don’t know what it’s like to really be sick.”

Sadly, my kid was diagnosed with cancer at 23 years old. She spent several, week long stints both in ICU and on the cancer floor of the hospital armed with an on-demand pump for pain medicine, blood transfusions, and a breathing machine. She not only lost far too much weight, her hair, her energy, her job, but her youth. By the time she was in remission, she was not a carefree 25 year-old on her way to celebrate her quarter century birthday in Las Vegas. She was a introspective adult. And now, eight years later, the scars on her body are a constant reminder of her ordeal.

And as many of you know, I did my own dance with death 19 months ago. Me? Who had never done any time at the hospital except two overnights with the births of my two kids. Me? With a ruptured colon, which resulted in almost two weeks of intubation and ICU. Even after I taught myself to write again, I spent twelve days in rehab learning to walk again. (In fact, they only released me from rehab when I went ape-shit over trying to climb a simple stair step.) And perhaps it’s a good thing, I still have NO memory of three weeks of my life. Glimpses, but no concrete recollection. And fortunately, since my brain still works at my age, I even plotted my hospital bills on a calendar to see if it would improve my recall of events. Now 19 months after being ripped a new you-know-what, side version, I’m very skeptical of having “Hector” reversed. Honestly, I’m too scared to have “Hector” reversed. I don’t want a deju vu second surgery.

Maybe, my kid is right. Both of us were so relieved to receive the COVID vaccine. Not because of our college educations, but because of our experiences. I absolutely know there’s nothing I can say to convince an anti-vax person to do the deed. Your choice. Your science. Fine. Then don’t go to the hospital if you fall ill. Take your dewormer pill, drink your bleach, eat your fish food, or use your ultra-violet light. Just stay out of health care facilities saving those who want to live for their families. Thank you.

Labor Day Weekend: A Reflection

Since nothing peaked my interest this week other than the appalling legislation and blatant disregard for women’s rights by the US Supreme Court which I won’t dignify by discussing in a blog, Of course, I don’t want vigilantes protesting my free speech in my well-manicured front yard either. Thus, I looked inward. Certainly, the realities of COVID have not only turned our lives upside down but have caused many of us to be alone much of the time. With five dogs, I’m not really alone, but they rarely engage me in conversation. I thought about my childhood September Holiday weekends and conclude I hated Labor Day weekend!

Hate, a very strong word, but hated them I did! First, it was the end of the garden season at our family farm. Soon Jack Frost would kill off the remaining unripe tomatoes and decimate the sweet corn and beans. Because of the looming fall weather, the weekend was spent picking, shucking, grinding, canning, and freezing. Once I spent both Sunday and Monday shucking lima beans and vowed to never eat another. On another, I ground several bushels of tomatoes for juice–a strenuous activity for fancy electric juicers weren’t available then.

Secondly, the largest Ohio county fair was held from Wednesday through Labor Day. On several occasions, I had to go on Labor Day to help my father close down the Dental Society’s booth. It was sad to see the last Italian sausages and cotton candy be sold and think it would be a whole year before I could eat greasy French fries with malt vinegar.

But most importantly, Labor Day signaled a major change in my life, for on Tuesday I would be back in school. My carefree, daydreaming summer days were over. No more fishing, nor more sandlot softball games, no more walks in the creeks of Mill Creek Park. No more rocket ship rides at the amusement park, no more sleepovers, no more picnics at the farm. The clear blue skies were now cluttered with big puffy white clouds suggesting fall had begun, and in Ohio that meant there could be snow for Halloween and certainly before Thanksgiving. Oh God, how many days of school would I have to endure before Thanksgiving or Christmas break?

I suspect it must be curious to you that a 50-year, career veteran of education detested going to school. (In fact, it wasn’t until I went to high school it became palatable.) I think it was simply my feelings of confinement, of monotonous routine, of abject boredom. Now believe me, I wasn’t smart and found I knew everything the teacher taught–not the case whatsoever. I was just a dreamer and an anti-boxer–I never had to think outside the box because I had none. School was simply something I endured, so I could move on to more exciting things.

Thankfully, my own children never learned of my disdain for Labor Day because Arizona schools have been in session for a month. Happy New Year to my Jewish friends and best wishes to those who start their school year tomorrow.