WHO ARE YOU NOW? DIDN’T YOU USED TO BE SOMEONE?

Fandango’s Provocative Question #80


From Fandango, a deep, philosophical question. We need some of those because everything else is about disease or the news.

“I saw this question on a site that offers up a bunch of “deep, philosophical” questions and this one intrigued me. It’s about evolution, but not in the context of Darwin’s evolution of the species. It’s more about evolution of the individual and about who you are and how you change over time.

Here’s this week’s question, which is essentially about you. I hope you’ll have fun with it.”

That’s a pretty good question, actually. I am not at the “forgetting” stage of life. It doesn’t mean I don’t remember events, especially those which were significant, but I’m losing a lot of the details. Many formative life events go back more than 60 years. A lot of life has been lived since then.

If you think of your brain like a computer’s RAM, there comes that moment when you either have to offload material onto an external drive, or get a bigger, badder computer. The opportunity to get a bigger brain has not presented itself. Yet. You never know. Massive brain extensions might just come along any day now. If so, sign me up.

Otherwise, the me that I am is an amalgam of everything I was, wherever I’ve been plus all the people I’ve known, loved, hated, lost, or somehow just faded out of my life.

I often think my life is like a long flight of stairs. I remember a few things from when i was very young … before I could even speak. The next time I have a clear memory is moving to our house in Queens and meeting the girls who would be my friends for the next 16 years. The woods. Building “forts” and drinking lemonade while playing killer Monopoly on Mary’s front porch. The accumulated sunburns of childhood and wondering how I managed to avoid skin cancer, all things considered.

Piano lessons. Starting to play when I was just four years old and my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals. They had to put blocks on the pedals for me. I was really tiny. I complained a lot about having to practice, so one day my mother stopped giving me lessons until I begged her to bring them back. I never complained again. Music got “stuck” in my soul and never left. I would have been a musician except, it turns out, that loving music doesn’t necessarily give you the talent to perform it. I still love it and I play a little bit. I’ll be playing more as soon as I get my new strings.

Piano lessons?

I remember seeing Dumbo maybe half a dozen times one year because that was when my sister was born and the aunts who were taking care of me kept taking me to the movies. The same movie, as it turned out. My one and only trip to Rockefeller Center was to see Dumbo. Again. I was a permanent animation addict and still am. In between wanting to be a ballerina — my mother took me to see the NY City Ballet and I fell in love with the dancers — I also decided I could be a cartoonist. I actually had a little talent for cartooning, but by then, a love of words had intruded into my brain and wormed it’s way right into my soul.

No matter what I studied in college, I knew I was going to be a writer. I remember the first stories I wrote, my brief foray into poetry, getting my first professional writing job, then getting the next one … and many of the ones that followed. I never stopped writing. I also never stopped taking pictures or playing piano … until the arthritis in my hand made it impossible.

Here I am. Seventy-three. I can’t play piano anymore, but I can strum on a ukulele and am working on two different pennywhistles and a three-string cigar box guitar. It’s part of my life and there are people who still think of me as a musician because I got to know them while I was studying music in college. I don’t worry about the “long-term” future. I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I’ve survived so much, I figure I deserve some moderately healthy, if old, time to be me — whatever that is.

I remember Israel very well. Not so much the people as the place. The Old City. The open spice markets. Climbing to the top of the Old City wall, imagining the Romans attacking the city and “holding the fort.”. Lachish where the Egyption had an outpost down near Rehovot. A lot of work-related activity because it was in Israel where I learned to deal with software and write about it. The little English-language newspaper I ran — the most fun I have had on any job.

Leaving Israel and coming home — and realizing I felt like a foreigner. I feel like a foreigner now, too. Times have changed so much and so fast.

My home in Baka, Jerusalem. I lived on the second floor.

I still write. Probably more than ever, but this time, I write what I want, not what I’m paid to say. I still take pictures, even though the technology has changed enormously. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer than I was. I think a lot of the work I did very early on may have been more artistic and because I worked in a dark room, more “mine” that the work I do now. So f I’m maybe better or maybe worse than I was more than 40 years ago, but I’m less into portraits and much more into birds and critters and wild spaces  I became a climate believer in Israel, spending almost 6 years working for the Environmental Health Laboratory at the University of Jerusalem. That has carried me through the years. I’ve been beating people up over clean water for decades — for all the good it has done. In the 1980s it seemed urgent. In 2020, it’s a dire necessity that we change our ways of doing just about everything if we want to continue to live on this planet.

I can’t remember all the cats and dogs I’ve had in my life. I remember the first ones and those from the past 35 years. In between, I mostly remember work. It used to amuse me that all my girlfriends got pretty clothing and make-up and perfume for their birthdays and Christmas. I got briefcases and computer accessories … and when I was lucky, cameras and lenses.

I still read history and science fiction and fantasy with occasional forays into criminals and cops and courtrooms. I actually love courtroom dramas and sometimes I’m sure I could do a better job than the fictional ones. There were a couple of years when I couldn’t go a single day without watching “Law and Order,” but I’m in recovery. I’ve given up collecting dolls and ancient Chinese pottery, but there’s still an awful lot of collectibles in this house.

So. After all the sturm und drang of my early years, I’m comfortably married to Garry. Thirty-years this September. This one is until death do us part.

DOOMSDAY BOOK BY CONNIE WILLIS

I read this for the first time when it was first published in 2008. It wasn’t available as an audible book yet, though it would be soon. So my first reading was words on paper.

It’s the story of the plague, the Bubonic Plague in England. In addition to the many light-hearted stores Ms. Willis has written, she has written a four book series about Time Travel and this was the first of the series. She’s not very technical. Her idea of time travel is to take a modern person and move them in time back to a part of history when something unusual was happening and then watch this “modern” human interact with the real inhabitants of that period.

This is either the best or worst time in history to read about Bubonic Plague. On one level, it makes COVID-19 sound like a walk in the park. Bubonic Plague is a powerful disease, borne of a bacteria rather than a virus. Which means you can’t create a vaccine against it and in all these years while Plague has been coming and going around the world, there is no vaccine. These days, it usually can be beaten back with heavy doses of antibiotics, but not always. It still kills people and it pops up all over the world, including in the United States.

In 1348 when the plague hit England and killed at least half the entire population and in some areas, killed everybody leaving towns deserted, everyone knew what we know:


WEAR A MASK. DON’T GET CLOSE TO OTHER PEOPLE.
AVOID “THE HOT SPOTS.” 


The wealthy who had homes far out in the country went there and locked the gates. Those who had no recourse — peasants and merchants — did the best they could. Everyone wore masks until people started to get crazy and say “I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well have fun in the meantime.”

Just like now.

Basically, the Black Death rampaged through England, Europe, and Asia for a few hundred years The 14th century was the biggest hit, but not the only hit. It lurked, so when a new generation was growing up, it struck again. Which is why you see remnants of the plague hitting in the Gobi Desert in prehistoric times, the Justinian Plague in Roman times, then the big one that came in with infected rats to Italian ports and ultimately, everywhere in Europe and England..

This book deals exclusively with 1348 to 1349, the years that the Plague arrived and did its best to kill everyone. It did a pretty good job. No one really knows what proportion of the human population was killed during the plague years, but it was no less than 50% and might have been as high as 75% — and in some areas, as I said, It involved the complete elimination of the entire human population and entire towns and regions. Areas that are regarded as having not been hit by plague were indeed hit, but they only lost 15 to 20% of the population — not enough deaths to even put them on the map.

Ponder that.

Today, we have a problem with freight and moving goods in the world as the Pandemic wreaks havoc. They didn’t have freight or shipping. They barely had roads. Instead, they lost so many peasants there was no one left to grow crops. So in addition to dying of plague, many died of starvation.

I found it more relaxing to read than watching the numbers of new COVID cases on the news every night. This is history. It happened. It’s over. COVID is right now. We are not free from it and we do not know when or if we will be free of it. Although it isn’t as fast a killer as Bubonic Plague, it’s still killing a lot of people and beginning to take a toll on younger people who were supposedly “immune” to it.

Even though, way back in 1348, everyone knew there was no immunity unless you just got lucky, they were as stupid about caring for themselves and each other as we are today. Supposedly they were so much less knowledgeable … but in the end, the answer was exactly the same then as now.


Social distancing and masks.


People were stupid in 1348. They are equally stupid in 2020. Times change. People don’t.

TAKE SOME TIME TO REVIVE IT

A view of America from Chicago, the band, by Rich Paschall

Chicago has been around for a long time. No, I don’t mean the city, I mean the band. In 1967, five guys from DePaul University recruited a sixth from Roosevelt University and started a band known as The Big Thing. Soon they recruited a tenor, moved to California, and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority. In 1968 they released a self-titled, double album that included some of their biggest hits and led them down the road to a Hall of Fame career.  After the threat of legal action by the home town transit authority, the band shortened its name and the rest is pop history.

Chicago Water Tower (Photo credit: Nicholas G. Mertens)

Their pop, rock, jazz-infused sound was groundbreaking.  In an era of bands that included a guitar player, bass player, and drummer, Chicago’s music majors were letting a trumpet, a trombone, and a saxophone lead the way.  It was a sound that led to more groups backed by horns.

As with many bands of the time period, they had their share of songs with social messages.  A war protest song (It Better End Soon), a song following the moon-landing (Where Do We Go From Here?) and political commentary (Dialogue, Part I & II).  They certainly did not rely on this type of song, but they were not afraid of them either.

As the decades rolled on they just may have relied a little more heavily on ballads and soft rock.  That’s why it is interesting to find that Chicago came back with another album, Chicago Now, aka Chicago XXXVI, with a heavy reliance on the type of horn sounds of their early years and commentary on the American scene.

America, America is free!
America!
America is you and me!

America, the third track on Chicago Now, was actually available for download long before the album came out.  With music and lyrics by founding member Lee Loughnane, it is not a throwback to another era, but a push forward for a band that has done something older bands are reluctant to do.  That is, put out an album of new material and social commentary.

The dream was fading before our eyes
Take some time to revive it.
‘We the people’ must start right now
Don’t expect our leaders to show us how
They don’t have a clue what to do
If they knew how to stop this slide
We’d have seen some signs by now
To turn back the tide.

Lou Pardini provides keyboards and lead-vocals for this anthem.  The beauty of the chorus and its tight harmony is in contrast to the attack of Pardini on the verses.  At times he is almost at a growling pace as he delivers his lines and the song’s message.

We can’t keep havin’ you make our rules
When you treat us common folk like fools
It’s time to stand up for our rights
Put congress in our political sights.
Make them pass laws that help us all
The Founding Fathers echo
Will be heard in the hall
By the people, for the people, everyone equal.

Right now we probably need songs of social importance just as we had decades ago. We feel our leaders have gone astray again, and a strong message needs to be sent. Sometimes we can send that message in music. Watch the video below for the lyrics and yes, that is the Chicago skyline at the opening. What did you expect?

BITTER ROOTS

I am named after an aunt I never met. In my version of Jewish family, you don’t name babies after living people. Only after those who have passed. This is not true in all Jewish families. It depends on where you come from and your “tribe’s” traditions in the matter. When I was born in 1947, there was a serious shortage of dead relatives after which to name me. Of course, there’s no law requiring you name your kid after a dead relative, but it certainly is the more popular path for naming.

You don’t have to pick the whole name. You can just pick your favorite part of the name. Like, maybe the middle. Or the second middle. Or an Americanized version of the primary name — or what people who didn’t speak English thought the Americanized version might be. It accounts for the far-too-many boys named Isadore (for Itzchak or Isaac). Lacking a deep knowledge of English-language roots, baby’s name could be similar to the original Hebrew or Yiddish name by simply matching the first letter or syllable … a method resulting in some pretty bizarre names Jewish boys and girls spent a lifetime trying to lose. It’s too complicated to explain.

Even your Jewish friends can be reduced to tears of laughter. Most of us have Jewish names that we try to never mention. Anywhere. Ever. For any reason.

 

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

The only dead relative lurking about my family at the time of my birth was my grandmother’s cousin (or was it aunt?). Her name was Malka. Which means Queen in both Hebrew and Yiddish, so don’t start dissing me. The problem is that this is not a name that has an elegant North American “ring” to it.

My mother didn’t like it either and decided to name me “Mara” instead.

Mara is the Hebrew “root” word from which comes Mary, Marilyn, Maria and all the other “Mar” names. But Mara has music in it. I wouldn’t have minded it. I liked its tone in my ear.


It means “bitter.” If you don’t believe me, look it up.


The moment she told her the tribe I would be named Mara, the family leapt into the fray. “You can’t name her Mara. That means bitter! Who’d want a girl named bitter?” Mom was quite the individual, but there was only so much family pressure a woman could handle. They wore her down. Thus came Marilyn, which apparently was a great name for 1947. It remained a pretty hot name for a few more decades too.

On the other hand, Malka? Not a hit. Anywhere. Still stuck with it as my Jewish name. You don’t get to choose these things and anyone out there with one of those names they wish they didn’t have knows what I mean. I never liked my name. I still don’t like it. I don’t even know why I don’t like it. It isn’t mellow. Doesn’t have music. It’s just a name.

As a kid, I figured if I found a name I liked better, they might bestow it on me.


Me: “Mom, I’d like to be Linda. It means pretty.”

Mom: “No.”

Me: “Mom, could you call me Delores? It sound so romantic.”

Mom: “No.”


And so it went until I went to Israel where some fool told me I should use my Jewish name. I glared him down and stayed Marilyn. I could live with Marilyn, but Malka? Really? I knew two other North American ladies named Marilyn. All of us refused to change our names. Malka not only wasn’t a lovely name, it carried the whiff of “cleaning drudge.” I don’t know why. It just did.

So now, here I am. Seventy odd years later and I’m still Marilyn. Still fundamentally bitter. It doesn’t seem as bad as it did back in The Day. Whenever that was.

THE FREEDOM TO BE SELFISH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

So what is the problem with the anti-maskers? I understand that many of them believe that the entire Coronavirus is a hoax or a greatly exaggerated hype to sully Trump’s sterling reputation and political fortunes. But why are they arguing that their “freedom” is being encroached upon merely because they are being told to wear masks to protect OTHERS as well as themselves?

They equate the discomfort and/or inconvenience of wearing a mask when they don’t want to with ‘oppression’. They’re like toddlers having a tantrum, screaming “I don’t wanna do it!” But freedom has never meant doing whatever you want whenever you want to. Every society, even a democratic, ‘free’ society places limits on individual freedom. They have to. To function, any group must have rules, mores and customs that shape the behavior of it members. We say please and thank you and wait patiently in lines for our turn to do things.

No one complains that their freedom to push to the front of the line to get served first is being violated by this custom. So everyone, on some level, agrees to accept some kinds of restrictions on their behavior to get along in society.

There’s a famous Supreme Court ruling that held that freedom of speech doesn’t extend to being able to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. That would be dangerous and potentially harmful to the group so it’s an acceptable limit on freedom of speech, one of our basic rights.

So why is being required to wear a mask to protect yourself AND others from a deadly virus, suddenly considered to be an unacceptable infringement on freedom? People don’t balk at wearing seat belts as a safety measure, though many did when the laws were first proposed and put into effect. Maybe the difference is that seat belts mainly protect YOU, while masks are to protect other people, not only you.

Do the anti-maskers feel that it’s their freedom to be selfish that’s being restricted? People have been caught on video screaming at employees who insist they wear masks in stores, refusing to put a mask on and even getting removed from stores by the security people or the police.

There’s another element in this situation, which is the Right’s obsession with people being allowed to refuse service to someone if doing so would violate their religious or personal beliefs. This exposes a deep hypocracy or inconsistency in the thinking on the right. If a baker doesn’t believe in gay marriage, he wants the right to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. But at the same time, they don’t accept the fact that many vendors believe that masks have an important health benefit and therefore require people in their facility to wear them.

Even Trump people accept the “No shoes, no shirt, no service” signs that are everywhere. And that’s based on personal preferences and aesthetics, not issues of public health. Yet they not only won’t abide by the no mask rule in privately owned facilities, they often harass owners and workers in stores that require masks.

Since wearing masks is about safety and health, it’s a better comparison to the laws against drunk driving. Even people who drive drunk, accept the fact that they’ll be arrested and punished for doing it if caught. So they accept the state’s authority to make the law in the first place, restricting what the state sees as potentially harmful behavior. It doesn’t matter if you believe that you can drive perfectly well after drinking. You can’t make that argument to a cop. The ‘state’ or the ‘society’ has deemed that a certain behavior is for the good of the group and most people go along with it. Why is this situation so different from a freedom perspective?

I guess it all boils down to the anti-science, conspiracy theory beliefs of Trump’s supporters, who think that they are the ‘real Americans.’ Somehow they feel that they have a right to defy the entities that believe different things than they do. Like the Confederacy that went to war to continue slavery, they are fighting a culture war to preserve the right to possibly infect others with COVID-19.

The same people who are anti-abortion and anti ‘choice’, are now proudly shouting, “My body, my choice!” I don’t know if irony is dead or is on speed dial!

 

LETTER TO AN OVERSEAS FRIEND – LIFE IN THE CRAZY ZONE

Bonnie passed at the beginning of June. We were doing what we swore we would NOT do, which was keeping her alive when it was obvious that she was really gone. At least she was (mostly) physically healthy until the end, not counting the blindness, deafness, and dementia. I thought I’d written about it. It was a relief in the end. I had not realized how much of our day was involved in caring for Bonnie. I hope she and Gibbs are friends again.

The face that launched a thousand cookies!

We are still waiting for a final word on our refinance and THEY are waiting for the appraisal, which normally takes about a week and is now just four days ago. We might have it tomorrow or Thursday. If it’s OK, we are a “go.”

I have plan B if it doesn’t work out and I’ve put in the down payment on the boiler and prepaid the payment for August, so I don’t owe them anything more until September. It’s the back of the house that needs more immediate work — and the one remaining toilet that needs to be replaced before it starts to leak. It’s badly corroded internally and sooner or later, it’ll just stop working. The other two have been replaced.

I don’t know what will happen with this election. It OUGHT to be a full landslide against Trump, but he is doing things that I didn’t believe any president could do. Stuff that was never legal, but he has corrupted the U.S, Attorney, too. Stacking the court hasn’t done him as much good as he thought it would. It turns out that Supreme Court judges don’t have to answer to anyone since they are appointed for life. He finally admitted that we have a pandemic which is likely to get worse before it gets better. It’s bad in most of the country. It was much better here, but we are beginning to see another rise now. It’s very small so far, but I think we are about to get wave number two as people pour in from other states where it is worse and bring the virus with them.

Theoretically, we are trying to keep them out, but that’s effectively impossible. This IS one country and you can’t close all the roads in and out of the few states that have managed the pandemic better then others … and ALL of them are in this northeastern region of the country — New York and New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine). New York has the biggest problem New York City is like London: jam-packed top to bottom with high-rises and other than a few parks, no safe place to go.

Meanwhile, the teacher’s (national) union is threatening a strike if Da Prez doesn’t pull back on his orders to open all the schools full time next month. As one teacher’s sign put it, “I can’t teach if I’m dead.”

A point well taken.

The additional unemployment money the government was feeding into the economy ends this Friday and there is no follow-up plan. Along with the expanded unemployment, the protection against eviction ends for renters. I don’t know what they think evicting so many people will accomplish. The result will be a massive housing crisis – tens of thousands lot of empty apartments and no one to rent them. An awful lot of people don’t have jobs to go back to. The places they used to work are gone. If they close down restaurants a second time, most of them won’t reopen. The entire hospitality industry is down the tubes — and that includes places like casinos.

This country, whatever happens in the next election, is going to be a different one than that which we had when we went into this pandemic.. There are very few restaurants or hotels except for chains (like McDonald’s) where you can order from your car plus take-out places for Chinese food and pizza. Many hotels will never reopen, at least not as hotels. Many malls are going to be empty hulks. We can fix this — over time — but not with Trump at the helm. He is a deeply mentally-ill man.

Close for now or forever?

We are going to have to rebuild our economy. We need to bring production facilities back to the U.S. and end pur insane total dependence on foreign manufacturing and international freigh. We don’t need to eliminate foreign production, but we certainly need to bring back at least some basic, necessary industries to the U.S.

Airlines are dying and they are almost giving away cars. Sports, which only started a few days ago, are showing up with huge clumps of COVID-19. The pandemic is alive and getting worse.

Trump seems to be trying to start his own Civil War using Homeland Security as his personal secret service. It looks worse on TV than it really is (I had a long talk with a friend who lives there last night and he says it’s basically confined to a single block in mid-town Seattle — other side of the continent from us) … but he’s threatening to move into other cities … and I think that really COULD cause a war. People are so angry.

There’s potentially some good news about vaccines — but there are months of testing yet to come. They don’t know how long protection lasts and whether via vaccine or suffering through the illness confers long-term immunity. It might be less than a year. AND it might not work for everyone. And then, of course, there’s the battle for equal justice which Trump is totally ignoring … but the citizens are NOT ignoring. That battle has been waiting for 150 years to blow up. Mind you, this is not by any means its first blow-up, but this one involves more people of different races — and maybe that means something. And Trump has managed to get his very own secret police involved. Gee, and right here! Who’d have thunk it?

So, summarizing: we have no schools, no plans for what to do about them … and students are falling farther and farther behind. Computers are not a real substitute for schools. Kids need more than memorization. They need relationships with other  kids and teachers. They need the social experiences that will make them into real people and maybe save us from a future too much like the present.

Of course, a lot of people are dying — and not just old people. People get sick, get better, but there are after and side-effects from the virus — even in very young people — and there are NO cures. None at all. We have not advanced much from medieval times in terms of how to deal with a pandemic whose source of infection we don’t really understand. True this plague is a lot less lethal than Bubonic Plague, but it’s bad enough. COVID-19 grinds slowly, but surely. It just keeps going.

We have killer mosquitoes which are an outgrowth of our changing climate. These mosquitoes never came this far north before, but it has been warm through the winter, so the bugs didn’t die and now we have lethal mosquitoes. Very few people survive those infections (there are two or three of them and I forget the names).

Trump, in his madness, thinks he can order sick people to work and that solves all the problems. He has the mental aptitude and social graces of a toddler with a bad temper. As for medical care: “Obamacare” (really it’s the ACA, but everyone calls it Obamacare), we are eligible for Medicare which was put in place in the early 1970s by Lyndon Baines Johnson — along with Medicaid that supposedly helps those who really have NO money at all. It isn’t free, but it’s a lot less than we’d pay if we were working. I think also that Massachusetts is better off than most states. We had our ducks in a row,  medically speaking, for at least 25 years — the first state to have full medical care for everyone. Under a Republican governor too.

I suppose in the end, what worries me the most is if we are going to have a “real” election and whether or not we will wind up in our own civil war. I would have thought this was impossible, unthinkable. Obviously not. It’s looking very real and I am so glad we live out here in the sticks. Whatever is going to happen, it’s the big cities that are going to get hit the hardest. We are a low density population. The battles will be fought in the cities.

A woman wearing a mask walks past a wall bearing a graffiti asking for rent forgiveness on La Brea Ave on National May Day amid the Covid-19 pandemic, May 1, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. – Several cities and states, including California, have passed executive orders prohibiting eviction of tenants affected by the coronavirus crisis. But when the lockdown lifts, the moratorium will end. And tenants will have to pay their back-rent or move out. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Finally, there’s the mental state of our country. People are depressed, bummed out, demoralized. Wondering if there is a normal in our future or if this is the new normal. I really don’t know. I have no way to predict anything and should we manage to have a fair election — without the intrusion of China, Russia, and Iran — there’s a big question about whether or not Trump would even be willing to leave the White House.

It’s a catastrophe, top to bottom. And how quickly it all happened, too. From what we thought was a normal country to this disaster in just about three years, most of it in the past four months.

Be well. Take care of yourselves and each other.