Monthly Archives: November 2010

In the Salt Mines

I still am not sure why our fearless leaders think raising the age for Social Security to 70 is a good idea. Probably because they can work until they look like cadavers. Out here in the real USA employers start trying to cut you loose at around 55 and really get serious when you are 60 or over. You are a good worker but you are at the top of the pay scale. When they think of having your retirement party (just a cake at the office these days) they are really seeing dollar signs flying back into the budget. They will have cute young newbies who make half your salary and do the same work.

What kind of work will you find if you want to stay employed after you retire? If you happen to have a law degree you can work until you drool and maybe beyond. You can start your own business if you have an idea, some start up money, and like taking risks. Or a wonderful career awaits you in retail for minimum wage.

If you want people to wait to retire until they are 70 you need to offer incentives to employers so that seniors can remain at their good paying jobs. Minimum wage jobs are not good enough opportunities to lure people away from collecting Social Security in their 60’s (as they were promised they could.)

If you let some entitlement programs go the quality of life in America will decline so rapidly that you will all be buying islands. Better hurry, there are hardly any left.

Can Anne Marie Buerkle Represent All Her Constituents?

Ann Marie Buerkle says in our Sunday paper, “I think the voters saw someone they could relate to.” But I think Central New York saw an unprecedented number of ads linking Dan Maffei to the “horrible” Nancy Pelosi, “the evil Democrat devil” who single-handedly forced “government” health care on to an unsuspecting public. They even made Nancy Pelosi look like she had red eyes. Well the public proved to be every bit as gullible as Republicans hoped they would be.

I don’t have any great attachment to Dan Maffei but at least his politics are something like mine. Ann Marie Buerkle says she will listen to all her constituents but that she has some inflexible beliefs that she will stand absolutely firm on.

Quoting the newspaper:
1. She wants to defund and repeal health care reform.
2. She wants to make all Bush-era tax cuts permanent.
3. She questions the validity of climate change.
4. She wants to cut corporate taxes and regulations.
5. She wants to eliminate the federal Department of Education.
Not in the newspaper:
6. I have also been told that she holds very strong pro-life views.

This person we have elected holds ideas diametrically opposed to mine and, I am guessing, many people who voted for her had no idea what her beliefs are. The Democrats did us all a real disservice by not giving out more information about Ms. Buerkle. Why on earth would I feel welcome to speak to a politician (my representative?) who has already said that, although she will listen, she will not change her mind about these issues? These are all key issues that will be considered in the near future in Washington.

People voted against Dan Maffei and (they thought) Nancy Pelosi chiefly because the Republicans took advantage of a movement to change legislators just for the sake of change. In addition,they ran an extremely effective smear campaign. I believe these are the only reasons Ann Marie Buerkle won. I will keep an eye on what she does and hope she does not accomplish any of her agenda. This is the one person running for federal election in NYS that I did not want elected.


Felicity has her second baby, a girl. She gets to enjoy her girls until they are one-and-a-half and three. On a snowy day in 1973 she drives into the back of a parked truck and dies. She has her seat belt on but she still dies. She had everything she always wanted but she loses it. How is this fair? As soon as he can function, Dean raises the girls himself. He does this for eight years. Then he marries a divorced hairdresser with two boys of her own. She becomes like another sister and we don’t lose Felicity’s kids.

Tyler and Sara are still being moved all over the eastern U.S. They move to New Jersey when the boys are in high school. When they have to leave New Jersey the twins stay behind. They earn degrees at Rutgers and get married to New Jersey girls. Their weddings are one month apart. They each have three children, two boys and a girl. Tyler has the most financial success of anyone in the family.

Gertie and Jason have two boys. After fourteen years of marriage Jason has an affair so blatant that Gertie cannot ignore it. She has to leave him. Jason turns mean. Gertie has a really bad five years and then she remarries. Both her sons marry. One has two girls. The other has one child out of wedlock, he marries a woman with two girls and then they have twin girls.

Robert marries Ellen. They also have to travel around. He is in the shoe business. They have a son and twin daughters, who are beautiful, but bald for the first two years of their lives. Their son is married and has two children, one boy and one girl. One of the twins is married, no children yet.

Emily marries twice. Both marriages end badly. She lives in the South for quite a while. Rebecca lives with her for a while. She has two daughters by her second husband. She’s an accountant. She eventually moves back to Smithvale. One of her daughters is married, no children.

Rebecca never marries but she is the family link. Everyone in the family likes her and relies on her. She lives with Augusta who is 89 and doing fine. Hobart died of prostate cancer at 81. She has 13 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren so far. Rebecca is also the family historian and a computer whiz.

Morgan marries a guy who fixes jets. She is a mail carrier. They live by a river and have two daughters. Morgan keeps her feistiness and her sense of humor. We hold all our family parties at her house.

Annie is my friend for forty years. She finally met the man of her dreams and after a lengthy courtship they marry. They have two children, a son and a daughter. I am privileged to watch them grow up over summers when they visit from Florida. Annie teaches elementary school.

Me, Zoe, I am lucky and unlucky. One month after my first arrest by the city police, the county police come to my school to arrest me again. The school secretary warns me. I turn myself in and only have to stay three hours. I don’t get fired. Thank goodness it’s an “alternative” school. After two court-appointed lawyers and after I call the DA a hypocrite (I do know how to sabotage myself), I am convicted through a plea bargain of a felony for possession of a controlled substance. I am sentenced to two years probation and two years of psychotherapy. I should have fought harder but I cannot bring myself to borrow any more money from anyone. The psychotherapy is good. I obviously need it. I teach at the same school for 23 more years. I become an assistant professor, and a department chair. I get a master’s degree. I feel I do a good job as a teacher. I get to send hundreds of students to college or help them get a GED. When I leave there I can’t get another teaching job. Even with a “Relief from Disability” signed by a judge. The climate has changed. Public school parents won’t have this and I don’t blame them. I take an architecture course and they tell me that a felony conviction will prevent me from being a licensed architect. I retire early. I work temp jobs. I’m a cashier. I will be a felon all my life. It’s OK. I was perhaps way luckier than I deserved to be.
I have quit smoking three times, but as I write these words I continue to puff away. The cosmic roulette wheel doesn’t let you get away with these things forever.

Lena and Linda hire a $5000 attorney and are convicted of misdemeanors. I don’t see them again.

Luke dies too young, although not as young as Felicity. I don’t know about it until after the fact. Augusta knows, but she doesn’t tell me. A mutual friend tells me that he died of a drug overdose. I hope that’s not true.

Decline or Transition?

cropped from :Image:Races2.jpg 1820 drawing of...Image via Wikipedia

Everyone says America is failing. You hear everywhere that we are in decline. Some feel that our government is falling apart. Some feel it is our economy or that we are in a moral decline. Some feel that all of these are true and that we will be another case of the “decline and fall” of an empire.

While it is true that we may be a bit behind the curve in a number of areas and that America does not seem as wholesome as it once did, I don’t think America is failing (and we probably weren’t really as wholesome as we believed we were). I’m not saying that we could not possibly fail, only that we’re not there yet.

I believe that America is in a transition phase. We must create a new base for a new global economy and, although this is a difficult thing to talk about, we must deal with the impact of diversity on our culture. I think white people are having problems picturing the place of white people in a country that will soon have a majority of minorities. I’m not sure if any one minority will outnumber Caucasian-Americans, but no one is sure just what America will be like. Will we still speak English? Will the “good ole boys” finally have to loosen their grip on the reins of American government? I don’t believe they will go down without a fight and I think we may be seeing the beginning of this battle.

Unless we learn to embrace the new world order and find a new way to a powerful economy will we lose our place in the world? Maybe we’ll do best trading on our humanitarianism and becoming the world’s food pantry and medical provider. We’ll expose misbehavior and predatory activity wherever we find it and we’ll be the “Federation” spreading fairness and order throughout the universe. We have it in us, it could happen, but we have to get over the 50’s.

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Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

I finished reading Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. A young boy, living with his Dad in a logging camp where his Dad is the cook, kills a person because he mistakes her for a bear. It’s a long story. They run and keep running for many, many years.

John Irving is a master of obvious symbolism which he turns into a literary positive. However, I forgot John Irving’s other favorite writing convention, or, as in his case, invention. He loves to foreshadow tragedy – coincidental, ironic, accidentally-earned-as-retribution-for-past-sins tragedy. He’s very good at it. He can foreshadow a coming disaster for chapter after chapter, sometimes throughout an entire book. We can see it coming, we can see some cosmic justice to it, but we love our doomed characters and we dread it and we hope that the inevitable will somehow be avoided. But the author assures us in tantalizing snatches that this will not be the case.

This book could also be called The World According to Ketchum. Ketchum is the old philosopher, the loner-logger woodsman with amazing wisdom. Danny (the son) could blame Ketchum for the loss of his mother. Ketchum blames himself. But instead Cookie (Dad) and Danny and Ketchum become a nontraditional family.

After watching the news coverage of the people trying to leave the American Embassy in Vietnam by hanging from the bottoms of helicopters and dropping to their deaths and the coverage of 9/11 Ketchum (and therefore Danny) come to believe that America is in decline and that the American way of life is failing. I did not expect this book to get political and it seemed to be tacked on to the story and unnecessary to the plot, although it is the part of the book I cannot stop thinking about, so is perhaps not so tangential. I still like John Irving.

Happy Thanksgiving?

A Kuchi elder with a sick child speaks with US...Image via Wikipedia

It is difficult to be thankful sometimes with all that is going on around us. A twenty year old college girl goes home to her parent’s house while on a school break. She leaves her home one morning and so far her family has not seen her again. No one saw anything except a big blue truck which may or may not be involved.

A friend wanted back surgery so he went for an MRI. They told him they couldn’t do the back surgery because he has a tumor on his kidney. After seeing another doctor it is confirmed that he has cancer. They have to remove the tumor. If it has spread he will need chemo. He will also have to live awhile longer with his painful back problems.

North Korea fired on South Korea. They are trying to make an atomic bomb. How scary is North Korea? They seem so aggressive and imperialistic. The North Korean people seem to have suppressed all their desires for personal gain and comfort in favor of some insane form of chauvinism. How will we avoid a war with North Korea?

Then on the news they show us the Kuchi’s in Afghanistan. Someone burned down the village where the Kuchi’s lived. They are now refugees who live in the ruins of the Royal Palace. There are no walls, there is no heat, the children are freezing. They are fed three times a day by the government, but the child mortality rate is climbing because of the cold.

What are we supposed to do when human sorrow seems overwhelming? We do not have a lot extra for ourselves right now, although our lives are so comfortable compared with the lives of many around the world. I suppose I can make a small donation to UNICEF but it will be so little. I do know tiny amounts of money can add up to large sums if enough people contribute and that is somewhat comforting.

And so for Thanksgiving I will still be thankful for my family and my friends and the beauties of nature. I hope everyone has something in his/her life to be thankful for. And while this is not happening to us we must find a way to enjoy the sweetness of life while we try to find ways to help others and keep the world from spinning out of control.

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November Book List

I am way behind on my reading but I hope to catch up this winter when the snow is deep and the roads are slippery. I think I am still back on the August reading list. But, in my defense, I was going through that pesky house shopping business. This list is from

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, “funny and furious”
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, 2nd novel by the author of The Glass Castle, this is a true-life novel about her grandmother.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, “graceful
The Confession by John Grisham, an innocent man about to be executed, only the guilty man can save him
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane, Boston PI’s Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro
Worth Dying For by Lee Child, a Jack Reacher novel
Room by Emma Donohue, “brilliant”, bonds between parent and child
In the Company of Others, Jon Karon, Father Tim novel
Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin, “edgy and witty”, follow up to Michael Tolliver Lives
What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman
Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock
The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart, (comparison to Cormac McCarthy)
Hungry for Happiness by James Villas, “wry, ribald, languid and laugh-out-loud funny” says Marsha Norman

CNN Withdrawal

Little House on the Prairie (TV series)Image via Wikipedia

I’m having news withdrawal. I can’t get CNN on my TV yet. I watch CNN a lot because the rest of daytime TV is so bad. Some of the old movies on the Turner Channel Movies network are the most interesting choices besides CNN. I watch them with my mom when I visit her. Perhaps you remember that she is 93 so we listen at movie theater volume and with closed captioning.

Mom doesn’t go for CNN. It’s a big yawn to her but I cannot watch Little House on the Prairie one more time so we’re even.

Even without CNN I have been hearing the TSA uproar. These are very invasive procedures and they aren’t inspiring me to travel anytime soon. Given the nature of people, our voyeuristic sensationalist tendencies, I imagine that if the TSA had a hangout “bar” it would be a lively place with plenty of interesting stories about some of the unusual people they “felt up” that day. Even professionals gossip to each other. It will be interesting to see if there is a boycott tomorrow. I hope we soon find a way to make travel safe without having to violate people’s personal space.

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My friend’s mother-in-law died last week. She was a Holocaust survivor. I remember when she showed me the tattooed number from the concentration camp on her arm. I had read about this in books but this was the first time I had seen this shameful reminder of a man and a world gone mad.
Rose married Lazar in Europe after she was freed from the concentration camp. She came to New York from Paris and had 4 children; 3 boys, 1 girl. Her husband yearned for a religious life and was lost to her and the children. She worked, rented the upstairs flat, and raised four successful children all by herself.

She was a strong person and she could be blunt and tough. She was not always nice to my friend when she was going out with her son and even when my friend was a newlywed but they eventually made their peace with each other. They are actually a lot alike.

Rose married several men in Miami. She was attractive and intensely alive. She ended up nursing them until they died. She had several boyfriends when she decided it was too heart wrenching to marry and be widowed. Then she gave up men altogether because she just could not take care of another sick man and she was showing signs of developing an illness of her own.
Rosa, her family called her Mama Rosa, got Alzheimer’s. How unfair is that – the beginning of her life clouded by horror, the end clouded by mists of confusion? Apparently, a Jewish friend tells me, Holocaust survivors are not comforted by keeping their early memories. When the nurses try to take them to the shower they respond with anger and violent resistance because they believe something awful will happen to them if they go. Imagine not being able to retreat to a happier time, but instead being taken back to a time of fear and terror.

Rose – rest in peace – you have earned it. We have missed you for too many years already now.

Week Off

I moved into my new old house on Saturday and I have been busy painting and cleaning and unpacking. The largest chunk of my worldly goods will arrive tomorrow.

Because of all these resettling activities, I have given myself the week off. I will return to writing next week.