ANOTHER YEAR ON A FIXED INCOME- Marilyn Armstrong

We got our taxes done.

This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.

This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.

Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.

I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?

It’s the fixed income thing.

Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.

We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.

We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.

There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.

THE SHINBONE STAR – REBLOG By NATHANIEL R. “NAT” HELMS

TIME HEALS OLD WOUNDS . . . UNLESS THEY’VE TURNED GANGRENOUS

A self-imposed exile from the machinations of Donald Trump is a good thing. It is like spraying Febreze Clean Linen scent inside your skull until the rotten stench is completely covered. Two weeks wasn’t long enough to fully enjoy it, but it is a start.

A real exile from Trump means no cable news, newspapers, Facebook memes and rants, not answering taunts and jibes and no light-hearted political discussion with the neighbors.

Netflix is a good hiding place. A more extreme alternative is Devotional Hour with Sister Marie, the wizened old nun who provides solace on a local Catholic television show. Five minutes cured everything. Even with great alternatives available, actually weaning oneself off the Trumpian titty is like quitting smoking without a nicotine patch. His nefarious influence is everywhere.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about such an experience is discovering that people who must work every day to care for their kids, dogs, and homes don’t often give a tinker’s damn about politics. It takes a particularly powerful whiff of Trumplandian swamp gas for them to even notice all is still not well in Washington, D.C. They apparently leave all the angst for old retired people who won’t suffer too long no matter what happens.

Several other discoveries jumped out immediately. The Trumpian Wall saga has run its course across the emotional nerves of my neighbors. So have mass shootings, the endless litany of #MeToo sexual peccadilloes and reports about election campaigns so far in the future they are irrelevant. The baffling Mueller probe is seen in the same light as all the other probes getting shoved in people’s keisters in the name of New Age correctness.

My hardworking neighbors know that a Saudi journalist named Khashoggi was chopped into mincemeat by lackeys of some medieval Arab prince who won’t be touched; that war in Syria and Afghanistan may be over but don’t count on it; and that some big, bald-headed guy on TV when they arrived home Friday was in a pointless pissing match with the Democrats. None of it touched their lives.

What really pisses off Mr. and Mrs. Working America is finding out that they aren’t going to get the income tax refund they used to use to buy a little fun, the really unimaginative halftime show at the cliché’-rich Super Bowl and that the constantly rising price of food and gas never gets factored into those glowing reports about how rich America is.

Just ask a working mom who looks forward to taking the kids for a week at the beach that won’t happen this year because she didn’t get a useful tax refund. Ask the tradesman who tolerated his union dues going to Democrats, thinking their expanded presence in the House would improve his life. Instead, they are using his money to buy a bully pulpit to promote themselves without accomplishing much else.

Perhaps the most illuminating people to talk to are the mid-level government employees where I live that are wracked with doubt because they spent all their savings just to survive Trump’s 35-day government shutdown. They are imminently aware that another shutdown is still in the cards. They are equally certain that at some point a shutdown will wreck the economy the same way it already has wrecked their households.

The so-called Trumpian base, the badly informed working class folks who turn to anyone who offers them red meat, are confused and angered as well. They thought their lot would have improved by now, said one of my forsaken buddies while buying donuts. We’ve been punching holes in targets together for 30 years and he still can’t bring himself to say he might have been wrong about Trump.

My old buddy lives in a trailer court down the road. He lives there because he can’t afford a house. He can’t afford a house because he earns a $1,000 or more a week during the working season and still can’t save enough for the 20-percent down payment. Despite all the news stories about how the country has run out of skilled and unskilled labor, he doesn’t have a job.

His mobile home costs $780 a month plus utilities. His wife doesn’t work because they can’t afford daycare for his three kids. Being a union laborer doesn’t provide much work in the dead of winter, he said. Unemployed union laborers go on the extra board and draw $280 a week unemployment that they hope will last until the spring thaw. The only thing being a cherished veteran got him is a VA house loan and lip service. Meanwhile, Republicans who supported Trump in Missouri are again trying to introduce “right-to-work” laws because they think laborers like my friend are paid too much.

I learned a lesson from this experience. To move forward, the country must clear its head, put its feet back on the ground and wean itself off the milk of Trumpian discourse. Hate holds only bankrupt answers. Trump’s forte is lies. It is time for Democrats to go around him, under him, over him or through him, the way illegal aliens would get past his useless border wall.

The presumption that time heals all wounds is misplaced. Time only heals wounds that don’t turn gangrenous.

Democratic leaders need to spend less time blaming Trump’s egregious behavior for the country’s wounds and begin binding them instead.

GOOD MORNING FRIENDS, BIRDS, AND A SQUIRREL – Marilyn Armstrong

This is another one of those “lost days” for me. There seem to be more and more of them, like I’ve been saving them up. But the suitcase got too small and everything is bursting out and blowing all over the place.

We had a long summer of nothing much going on, preceded by a long slow winter and spring, suddenly, as summer rolled around … everything went wild and crazy. For us, that is. For someone else, probably not so much but we don’t move fast.

I never seem to have a whole day to just relax. Or even a  half a day.

Squabbling Juncos or a Junco and a Nuthatch. Hard to tell.
The reddest bird of all birds
The red one’s lady friend
Chickadee and Goldfinch
Early Squirrel

Tomorrow we get our taxes done. I’m hoping for the best and hopefully, we won’t have another government shut-down and we’ll actually get our refund. This year. Like … soon. Because we need an infusion of money.

Finances are running a bit thin. And did I mention that it’s gotten very cold again with sleet and snow and maybe freezing rain tomorrow? But not to worry because it will be 50 degrees by the weekend, at which point, it will all melt.

UXBRIDGE ON THE RITZ! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Ritzy

Amidst the Sturm-und-Drang of life in our dinky little town, we suffer from what most forgotten towns suffer from.

We have nothing going for us.

Uxbridge has no work or hope of meaningful employment. There are no malls with big stores that hire people for living wages. No budget, sidewalks (except mid-town, which is one street (Main Street, of course). There are no streetlights, though we do have one traffic light. No public transportation. Not buses, trains, or trolleys or even a taxi. Someone said there’s an Uber driver somewhere, but I’ve never seen him or her.

On the street where we live.

There is no bookstore (we had one, but it went out of business). No greenhouses or nurseries. No places to buy clothing unless you count the Salvation Army (often the most fashionable offerings in the area). No quaint coffee shops (but lots of donuts).

It’s a mosaic because we don’t have any murals. But it’s an old one and it’s all about shearing and marketing wool.

We have some restaurants serving among the worst food you can imagine. We’ve got one really good (and ridiculously expensive) sushi joint we can no longer afford. We used to go there when it opened and prices were normal, but people discovered it and up went the prices — and they opened two more restaurants in other towns, too. There is one other Asian eating place — just over the Rhode Island border — which has sushi as well as pretty good and almost affordable Thai and Vietnamese food. It’s only a mile and a bit from home, so when we go out — rarely — that’s where we go.

Otherwise, the ‘American’ restaurants think garlic and black pepper are too spicy. It’s all brown gravy and white bread bland. We have a couple of Chinese restaurants that change owners regularly. New chefs start off with decent food, discover no one EATS decent food and promptly delete all spices from all foods.

I love Chinese food and fortunately, I know how to cook it, else I would be forced to drive fifty miles to someplace that recognizes the difference between Hunan, Mandarin, and Cantonese, et al.

Take a walk along the river

Our other local “restaurants” are pretty good at making burgers, fries, and serving cold beer. Mostly, beer.

The little white house with the big red tree

Three years ago, Massachusetts passed a bill allowing pot shops in the state. They have been wrangling over taxes and shmaxes and what about stoned drivers and is it moral? Meanwhile, the citizens have been getting downright irritable that we still didn’t have any way to buy any.

Between the “medical marijuana” bill we passed, we seem to have also said, “Aw, nuts, bring on the ‘just for fun’ dope, too.” We all own more land than we need around here. Mostly, the soil is too stony and rooty to grow normal crops. It’s truck farming. Cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries in June, and squash forever  … and a few places grow corn … and of course, dairy cows.

Plus lots and lots of apples. Orchards everywhere. We really do grow amazingly good apples and anything we don’t eat, the horses are happy to finish off for us. Did I mention horses? We grow big horses. Clydesdale and Percherons, each horse the size of a 10-ton truck, but gentle as a kitten. Just don’t step on my paw, please.

About three months ago, finally we opened our first two pot shops. one somewhere in a sleazy part of Boston and someplace not far from the crossing into Cape Cod — near Plymouth I think, but I could be wrong.

During the first two months, these two TINY little shops brought in more than 2-1/2 million dollars — each.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Suddenly, all the people who doubted pot was something we ought to have here in Massachusetts began to sing folk songs, buy bongs, and whistle a happy tune because — hey, that’s REAL MONEY. No kidding. Money in huge quantities. The only reason there wasn’t more money coming in was the shops kept running out of dope.

The Canal and river

No problem. Spring is coming.

Anyone with a piece of empty land is going into the hemp-growing business — or renting their land to someone who’ll do the growing and pay them to use the property.

Last night, on the local news, they announced the next two locations for the new pot shops. One will be in Pittsfield, the town in the Berkshires where no one wants to live, and … are you ready? Really ready?

UXBRIDGE.

No shit. There it was. On the map on the big television. Dead center of south-central Massachusetts and hyper-convenient to our neighboring border states of Connecticut and Rhode Island — where they don’t (yet) have “enjoy the munchies” dope.

UXBRIDGE.

I’m sure everyone was sitting and looking at the screen and saying “Where the hell is Uxbridge?” Nobody knows where we live. No one ever bothers to visit us because “Where the hell is Uxbridge?”

Well. Now we are someplace. You will come here to buy marijuana.

We’ll have a permanent traffic jam in front of Hannaford’s and every doughnut shop will be overrun by stoned people looking for stuff to eat. Dear lord! There will be no parking because who needed parking?

Our one lane, each direction Main Street will be full of expensive cars and stoned people who have hiked in from Boston and the Cape. We are actually only an hour and a bit from Cape Cod, but no one knows that … yet. Soon, they will know.

They will build coffee shops and bake pies. Someone will open a bakery. Stores will sell widgets no one needs that cost too much money. Maybe the price of our house will finally rise in value. Is it possible our taxes will drop?

Nah. Taxes never drop.

But more people might move in. We might get a trolley or a bus or a train stop. It could happen. And they could fix the sidewalks and put in some streetlights!

Uxbridge Commons

I’m dreaming of a stoned Christmas, unlike any I’ve ever known.

There was a time in my life when I dreamed of legal pot and at least I’ve lived to see that happen. And who’d have thought in UXBRIDGE?

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” She chortled in her joy.

Talk about ritzy.

RITZY has come to UXBRIDGE!

NEWER MOMS AND POPS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 18 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

72-Deli-032015_72

But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

72-BW-Deli-032015_70

They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

FORGETTING AND REMEMBERING – THE PAST IS NEVER GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

History wasn’t supposed to be an academic subject we learn in school and promptly forget. I am always a bit pixelated by people who tell me that there’s nothing in the past that means anything to them. They are inevitably the same people get twisted up in something they could have  (easily) avoided if they knew some history.

Photo: Owen Kraus

Let’s take the old “trickle down” theory of economics. It has been tried by I don’t even know how many conservative or Republican administrations. It has never worked. That’s because it doesn’t work. It can’t work. It’s one of those theories that presupposes that the people involved will intentionally do “the right thing.”

That extra money will be reinvested in the business and used to pay employees better and hire more people.

Except they don’t. Ever.

They take the money as a bigger salary for themselves and other top-level administration. They use the rest to pay bigger dividends to investors and as often as not, cut staffing, lower salaries, and these days, move the entire business to a less expensive economic environment. The thing they never do is raise salaries for current employers and hire more people.

Why not?

Good question. There was a time when that is what businesses did. They believed in America. They weren’t any less greedy or rapacious than the current bunch, but they were patriots too. They believed in the United States, trusted Americans to produce high-quality work. They also thought high-quality work mattered.

Crown and Eagle mill

These days, greed is what’s left but without the patriotism or dedication to producing quality work. They don’t care whether what they do strips the land, destroys anyone living in the area, or is lethally poisonous. As long as they make an extra penny per whatever, that’s good enough.

Most of these “old time” rich people eventually turned to philanthropy. They did care about America and once they’d wrung every penny they could get from whatever industry they built, they thought it was their duty to “pay back” the country.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

These days, most of the super-rich have no allegiance to anyone or anything but themselves. They think if we aren’t rich, we’re trash. That’s exactly how they treat us.

If you work harder at your job, they will fire someone else and you will get twice the work. I eventually learned to never let them know how quickly I could work because I never got a raise or a pat on the back. I just got more and more work. In one job, I started out as the junior writer in a department of five.

Rumford River dam, part of the original Bernat Mill complex.

By the time I left, I was the junior writer in a department of me alone. Everyone else had quit or been let go. I still hadn’t gotten a raise or promotion. I did what five people had previously done. Nothing trickled down.

That was the last time I let myself work full-speed.

And that’s why trickle down is a pile of horseshit. Nothing trickles down. The guy at the top keeps it all and laughs as they haul his money to a Caribbean island while he avoids paying any taxes. To anyone.

Two banks, night in Uxbridge

If anyone reads history, the story of economics in this and every other country will assure them this isn’t going to work because it never has. It never will.

Meanwhile, a pile of damn fool voters will believe the bosses who promise they will make it better — yet never understand why they keep getting poorer.

TRICK OR TREAT?

Yesterday was a trick … or today was. One of these two days was definitely a trick and the other a treat.

Yesterday, in the alternate reality in which I lived (or is today the alternate reality?), I spent almost 5 hours trying to get my bank, ye olde Bank of America, to perform a simple transaction. I got transferred, disconnected, connected to the wrong departments, the wrong people, the wrong everything. When I woke up this morning I checked and all of the transactions that I was assured would disappear had not disappeared. All of them had gone through, cleared my account. The money was gone. Zip, zap, finished.

I sighed. Looked at the sky and bemoaned my fate.

Then I called the bank. I got the wrong department of course … but at least I got there in about 3 seconds. The time was so brief I didn’t need to listen to more than a bar or two of the dirge they play while you wait online. The woman who answered the phone (a live woman!) explained I’d gotten the fraud department (again) and since this wasn’t fraud, she needed to connect me to the right guy. Not to worry, she’d go and (are your ready?) “Bring him here so he can help you.”

That’s right. No hold until dial tone. No long wait. No explaining the whole thing again. When he got on the phone, he knew exactly what the problem was and … he fixed it. Just like that.

Whose bank was I talking to? It couldn’t be my bank, could it?

The man I spoke to was sure it was the fault of the church. He had a deep, lovely southern drawl and he explained “Those churches are always out to get you,” which was not a perspective I normally have, but apparently where he came from, banks are fine. It’s churches who are going to empty your pockets.

So all the money is coming back. It’ll take a week, but no problem. Look out for the churches! I did explain that it was a local church and they are a very nice group, but he had a deep and abiding suspicion that all churches are going to clean you out. Who am I to dispute that?

Obviously, I’d altered realities. Where were the obnoxious, unhelpful, aggravating, infuriating people who made my life a misery yesterday? Instead, there were these charming, friendly, helpful folks who couldn’t be more eager to fix my problem. Say what?

Yesterday, it was all trickery.

Today was a treat.