The Way It Was | Part 2

Note from the editor: Click here to read Part 1 of “The Way It Was”

Conversations Overheard

There was a fringe benefit for me from the depression in that I received my first indoctrination into the ways of the world which included comprehensive discussions of politics, economics, world affairs, and morality but with a special focus on means of survival in difficult times.  My education occurred while lying on our living room floor listening to Dad and friends (not to be confused with Fox and Friends) debate all kinds of issues while they focused on possible work sites.  The men were regular visitors to our house where they met and planned strategy to find work.  It is likely that they were attracted to our house as a meeting place by Dad’s famed home brew.  Although he was not a bootlegger per se, he was known to have occasionally traded a bottle or two for some needed commodity.    I was an accomplice in the enterprise as I took great delight in placing a cap on each bottle and watching Dad press it in place. 

There must have been a robust feeling of camaraderie amongst those guys who were all in the same sinking boat.  There was laughter in spite of their dire circumstances, and there were frequently told colorful stories which without benefit of Dad’s home brew would not likely have reached my tender ears.  The coarse language was not lost on me, and was quickly incorporated into my vocabulary, the use of which would often get me in trouble.   One particularly memorable event occurred when Dad took the guys down to our cellar to show them his success of the day.  He had received a feisty old rooster in return for a day’s work, and the rooster was confined to the cellar, a small space with a dirt floor cool enough to render the beer palatable.  Someone stumbled over the pan of water left for the rooster and Dad filled it with beer.  Surprisingly, the old guy imbibed with gusto and was soon stumbling, flapping his wings, and attempting to crow in a falsetto voice.  If he was hung over in the morning it was short-lived as a few hours later he would be on a platter sharing space with some drop dumplings.

Work

In spite of the bravado most of the conversations had to do with work or rather the lack of it.  The meetings were unscheduled and men would drop in at various times during the evening with comments like “I thought I would drop in to shoot the shit.”  There were always rumors of things to come both good and bad… this place was laying off, another was going to be hiring, another business was in trouble and about to go under, etc.   In 1933 the unemployment rate is said to have been 25%, but that number does not tell the whole story.  Many who were said to be employed were actually able to work only part time.  For example, Barb recalls her Father listed as an employee at a local steel mill, but usually actually working only one day a week and sometimes sent home early even for those days.  He avoided eviction by painting houses owned by his landlord. 

One conversation in particular stands out in which one of the men who was employed at a local glass container factory said he had just come from his workplace and had been turned away.  He reported that at every shift change there were huge crowds of employees at the entrance hoping to be chosen to work that day, but few would be chosen.  He loudly and profanely complained that the foremen “suck asses” and relatives were always the first chosen to work.  Some jobs or professions previously considered ordinary were highly prized.  Postal workers, school teachers, and local government jobs were highly prized for their stability.  The lack of available cash led to a great deal of bartering, especially with farmers who had no one to whom to sell their crops.  Conversely, professionals such as doctors and lawyers along with day laborers were often paid with food (e.g. the story of the inebriated rooster).   

Civics (Yesterday’s Term for Politics)

No education is complete without lessons in civics and the down-but-not-outers were not shy about expressing their opinions in such matters which was probably enhanced by the tongue loosening effects of Dad’s beer.  There was considerable disagreement amongst the group with almost everything.  In our home Dad was registered as a Republican and Mom was a lifelong Democrat.  I have the opinion that in those days one usually belonged to the party with which they had grown up much as with they do with religion.  Dad in spite of his upbringing had experienced an epiphany: he blamed Hoover for the depression and lauded FDR’s efforts to restore the economy. 

Those on the negative side of the debate were equally vociferous in their ridicule of FDR’s “make work programs” and “socialist stuff.” There were all kinds of jokes referring to the WPA and their workers having a penchant to be seen leaning on their shovels.  With the establishment of social security in the mid- thirties the idea of government taking money out of his check (if he had one) and giving it to someone just because he got to be 65 years old did not sit well with the naysayers.  A typical analysis might go something like this: “What ever happened to the idea of saving for old age” or “If they can’t take care of themselves, they should go to the poor house” (large forbidding appearing buildings euphemistically referred to as county homes).  Families were expected to care for their elderly or infirm parents consequently; they shared in the disgrace, and were denigrated for forcing their parents to “suck on the public tit.”

The most often discussed and vilified make work program was the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  The average wage was $52 per month yet one of my uncles worked in the program until it was disbanded in the early 1940s.  During that time, he managed to raise two children with the help of his wife who was able to find work cleaning the house of an affluent neighbor.  Although largely removed from most employment opportunities, wives did find ways to contribute.  For example, Barb’s Mother did laundry in her home in spite of a childhood injury that left her crippled.  The WPA worked on infrastructure projects while the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) focused on environmental projects.  It was an organization for young men who were housed in barracks throughout the nation and paid even less.  They were best known for planting millions of trees, often in areas where logging had left a desolate landscape.  Roosevelt in announcing its formation said; “forests are the lungs of our nation.”  They also fought forest fires, worked in national parks and landmarks building roads, trails and camping facilities.  Many such projects remain in use to this day.

Philosophy 101

While listening in on those conversations from my vantage point on the living room floor I was also privy to discussions of moral issues some of which have bedeviled philosophers for eons.  For example, one evening one of the guys reported that he knew of a place where it was possible to steal casing head gas.  Although gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, he did not have 18 cents, his car was out of gas, and he couldn’t look for work. (For the unenlightened of my readership: casing head gas is formed by compression of natural gas by functioning oil wells.  It is a very low quality fuel and can cause significant damage to automobile engines.)  Since he was without the means to get there, he was attempting to recruit an accomplice.  This provoked a heated debate.  Not only was his proposal illegal there was that “thou shalt not steal” thing in the Bible for which some thought there were no exceptions.  This brought up oft delivered hypotheticals one of which was very relevant to their situation which was “would you steal food if your children were starving?”   

Keep Walking or Go to Jail

Vagrancy laws made homelessness even a greater problem than it is today for one could go to jail for “having no physical means of support.” When I looked up the origin of such laws, I was surprised to find they were written after the Civil War as as a means to get freed slaves off the street and into the chain gangs which could be rented out, a process some called a new form of slavery.  These laws were found to be useful during The Depression as a means to rid the parks and other public facilities of the homeless.  I had always wondered where all those men I used to see walking along the highways were going.  Later it became obvious that they must stay on the move or go to jail.

These were the same guys who would sometimes appear at my Grandmother’s back door offering to do work for food.  Of course, there was no expectation that work would be done.   Grandma would bring a plate out for them and after a brief repast they were on their way. Since farmers were those who were most likely to have food to spare and cops were scarce these backroads were fertile territory.   I heard stories of farmers who discovered “bums” asleep in their haymows especially during inclement weather.  Depending on the compassion of the farmer they might be awakened by the business end of a pitchfork or sent to the house for something to eat then on their way.

Many of these hoboes or bums as they were called in those days would become so enured to that lifestyle that they would spend the rest of their lives on the move never staying more that a few days in one place.  They became expert at hopping freight trains, knowing their schedules and where they slowed enough to get on them.  They often migrated with the birds following the seasons.  They eventually developed places where they could hide for a few days at a time usually close to a rail depot but far enough away to avoid the railroad police.  It is said they verbally catalogued places that were soft touches for hand-outs.  Thus, a nomadic subculture came into being demonstrating the remarkable change which can be brought about in an industrial society by an economic crisis.

An Early Exit Prevented

At some undetermined time during those preschool years I experienced life threatening incidents one of which would label my Father as an unlikely hero.  In what was probably an effort to provide food and recreation simultaneously, he had decided to take me, my brother and mother fishing probably with the hope of making a meal of our catch.  The site, called Pleasant Valley was a favorite of mine and was next to a small conclave of houses reached via a covered bridge over the Licking river.  Its only reason for existence was a Post Office situated next to a major rail line.  It was a mail distribution facility for a large part of the county, and its fascination for me was to be able to watch the train rush past at what seemed to me to be at least 100 mph, while a metal arm reached out from the mail car, dropping a bag of mail, while snatching a similar bag, and pulling it back into the car without even slowing.

Most likely, on that day I was preoccupied with the hope that the mail train would come by.  The river was high, and I recall staring at the water as it rushed by, then everything was suddenly brown.  Probably that memory remains so vivid due to fact that I would have a recurring dream of that incident for years although; such dreams were not frightening but consisted of the sensation of floating in that brown water.  I am told that Dad saw me fall into the swollen river and immediately jumped in although he could not swim.  I was told that my life was saved by a single button for I was wearing a light jacket with one button fastened and Dad reached out with one hand and was able to grasp the jacket with one hand.  He threw me upon the bank and as he was floating by, managed to grab a root growing out of the river bank and save himself.  Thanks be to God that the button held for had it not you would have been denied the joy of reading these blogs!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Way It Was! 

The Way It Was: Part 1

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.

While loving someone deeply gives you courage. 

Lao Tzu

                  My son Peter, the history buff, has requested I write something about my childhood with emphasis on my remembrances of World War II, and events preceding it.  He believes others may be interested in that subject in spite of the millions of chronicles already written of those times he suggested that I do my own version in a blog with emphasis on the experience of growing up in that era.  The most impressive oral histories of the thirties were carried out by the Federal Writer’s Project a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under the auspices of one of Roosevelt’s New Deal creations.  Although designed to chronicle the travails of ordinary people living during the depression, it is best known for the verbal histories of former slaves.  Those manuscripts now repose in the library of congress.Federal Writers Project American-guide-week-fwp-1941

It is true that much of recorded history had its genesis in oral accounts passed on from one generation to the next.  It is also true that it has been shown that memories are frequently distorted, and further colored if they are passed on verbally through a series of listeners.  In an article on oral histories published by History matters, the impetus for verbal history taking is outlined as follows: “…..for generations history-conscious individuals have preserved others’ firsthand accounts of the past for the record,  often precisely at the moment when the historical actors themselves, and with their memories, were about to pass from the scene.”  I can only hope this was not Peter’s motivation in encouraging these reminiscences for I am not ready to “pass from the scene!”

In my own case, I often thought of events which occurred during my father’s lifetime and regret that I didn’t encourage him to talk more about his childhood.  My father was born in 1904 just 10 years prior to the onset of World War I.  It would have been interesting to compare notes for I was born 11 years before the onset of the next “great war to end all wars” and arrived only a few months following the Stock market Crash of 1929 which ushered in what came to be called The Great Depression.

My Mom & Dad

My parents had little to lose when The Depression hit, but what they did have was gone.  Dad had grown up in poverty, with an alcoholic father and a long-suffering mother whom he adored.  He had quit school in the 8th grade, and went to work as a common laborer in order to help the family.  He had three sisters and an older brother, who was rather passive by nature. My dad became the adult in charge, a role which he would occupy the rest of his life.  One of the more poignant stories of his childhood I remember was his explanation of why he was fixated with having eggs in the refrigerator.  He told me that when he was a kid, his mother sent him up the alley to the neighbor who kept chickens with a penny to buy one egg.  He was embarrassed and vowed to always have plenty of eggs when he grew up.

My mother, by the standards of the day, was well educated having spent a year at a local “business collage” learning secretarial skills which she would never utilize.  Although her father (one of my favorite people) was relatively uneducated, he was a strong believer that women should be able to “stand on their own.”  I suspect that for her time she would have been considered liberated.  Model T FordI recall seeing a photo of her standing beside a Model T Ford that she had been driving that she had rolled over on its top.  In those days, for a woman to be driving a car would have be en unusual if not scandalous.  That experience must have left her shaken for she would never drive again and her back seat driving performances were legendary.  In similar fashion, she would cede much authority to my father while firmly retaining control of her department, i.e. keeping house and raising kids, a very common arrangement at the time.

Their marriage began well and a year later my brother was born, an event which was followed three years later by the greatest financial crisis in the country’s history.  As a wedding present mom’s father, a carpenter, had provided them with the labor to build a house.  Shortly after that fateful day in 1929, dad lost his job and subsequently the house was repossessed.  To make matters worse, a year later I entered this already complex picture.  I am told that I was welcomed although I am sure another mouth to feed was one of the last things needed.  Just as my kids have endured the repetitive nature of my stories of their early life, so have I endured the following story of my birth hundreds of times.

Hello World

I was born in what was called Dr. Wells’ hospital located in the village of Nashport, the name originating from the fact that Mr. Nash had settled the area as a port on the Ohio canal in the early 19th century.  To call the facility a hospital was a bit of an exaggeration even in those days for it consisted of an extra room attached to his office.  Nevertheless, Dr. Wells must have been a progressive practitioner who had abandoned the practice of home delivery in favor of modern facilities.  In my mother’s case, he even offered her the choice of anesthesia, and my father confidently volunteered to “drop ether” (a term used by anesthesiologists for inhaling ether as an anesthetic).

Fortunately, mother and I both survived the procedure which was reported to have been difficult as I weighed in at 13 pounds and have been told I was “long and skinny,” a term that would be used to describe me throughout my childhood.  Dr. Wells is said to have remarked “look at those ears, he is a little Spinney.”  Spinney was the nickname of my Grandfather who was famed for the large ears which protruded from his skull at right angles and were probably made more noticeable by the irony that he was significantly hearing impaired.  I know little of what happened in my earliest years, but it is certain that there will never be a plaque on the door of Dr. Wells hospital commemorating it as my birthplace for the building was later razed and the village was moved to higher ground in order to make way for a flood control project.

My First Memories

My family’s history for the first few years of my life is hazy, but I did learn that they had moved frequently during my toddler years.  Whether this was due to evictions or looking for a better deal I can’t say.   Alfred Adler a Freudian psychoanalyst placed great importance on our first memory stating: “The first memory will show the individual’s fundamental view of life, his first satisfactory crystallization of his attitude.”   In my own case, this pronouncement may ring true for my first memory was of my introduction to Crackerjacks while watching a baseball game in a bleacher with my parents most likely around 3 years of age.  Indeed, I see it as a prophecy of my life to come, which has largely consisted of a search for the toy hidden among the tasty morsels of everyday life even though the occasional unpleasant experience of biting down on a kernel which hasn’t popped, is inevitable.

There is another pleasant memory of that time-period which competes with the Crackerjack story for first billing.  The standard tool for mowing lawns in those days was the person powered push mower with its rotating blades which could be disengaged by turning the mower upside down.  The incident must have occurred when I was less than 4 years of age based on the timeline of where it occurred, but the memory remains clear.  My Father had placed his folded coat on the mower and I was sitting on it as he pushed it down the sidewalk.  Of course, at the time this was simply a fun time for me, but later I would learn that he was cruising the neighborhood soliciting lawns which he could mow.  I now suspect that my presence may have been designed to add to the pathos directed at potential customers.

Dinner Time

The remainder of my preschool years as you might expect are clouded and I have no way to place these in any logical sequence.  In retrospect it is clear that some of these experiences related to the extreme stresses under which my parents labored.   It is clear that we were very poor and at times they were desperate for food, a fact of which I was blissfully unaware.   In recent years my brother reminded me of times when our parents did not join us at the dinner table and chose to eat later.   Since no one had money, food was cheap, and farmers had little incentive to produce more than they could consume.  City dwellers with backyards planted vegetable gardens, and Mothers learned to preserve the produce by drying or canning them.  An apple tree in one’s yard became a valuable asset.  Even some city dwellers kept chickens in their yard which were carefully guarded lest they become someone else’s dinner.

There were occasional distributions of food via the local “relief” organization, so named as part of FDR’s Federal Emergency Relief Organization.  Food was distributed at regular intervals at the local relief office.  At a time when independence and the ability to “paddle your own canoe” was valued it was embarrassing to be seen standing in the long lines when it was announced that food was about to be distributed, and many chose to suffer hunger rather than to be known to be “on relief”.  The type of food given must have depended on whatever was available to the states at any given time for I recall my Father, having braved the disgrace, coming home with a huge bag of rice.  Mother was talented at finding innovative ways to prepare food, but in spite of her best efforts the steady diet of rice dishes for what seemed like eternity to a kid, left me with an abhorrence of rice that took me 50 years to overcome.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Way It Was” where Eshrink gives us a glimpse of the camaraderie between his dad and his friends as they searched for work each day during the Great Depression of the 1930s; conversations overheard about survival, politics, world affairs, and morality; and the close call that almost ended his life.

‘TIS THE SEASON $$

Introduction from Eshrink Editor: I think all readers will relate to this blog post where Eshrink discusses the battle of the charities during the holidays. I told him about a website I use to evaluate charities and he wanted me to add it to the beginning of the post in hopes it might help people give to charities that maximize the amount of money that goes to the people the charity says it wants to help versus executive compensation and “administrative” costs. It’s charitynavigator.org. What I like about this non-profit is that they explain in simple terms the methodology they use to evaluate each charity. Take it away Eshrink with the latest installment of the Curmudgeon Series. This one is entitled ‘Tis the Season!

Now is the time to max out those credit cards. After all, you will have a year to pay them off, and be ready to do it all over again. Most people, even some non-Christians, follow the tradition of gift giving during the Christmas holidays. Some might say that in many instances it has become an obscene example of crass materialism. In any event it is said that we of the Christian faith are generous in general, with of course, many exceptions to that rule. This generosity presents many business opportunities particularly in the retail and the manufacture of stuff. This is confirmed by the long-held proposition that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the only profitable time of the year for many retailers. There are also the delivery services, the credit card companies, the grocers, and the electricity providers that are among those who profit as a result of those millions of gaudily wrapped packages.

 

JOY TO THE WORLD
Ah, but those are not the only ones for whom the season is joyous. It is a great time for thieves who can follow UPS or Fed Ex trucks and collect a lot of stuff, not to mention the shoplifters and purse snatchers who find it easier to defeat the security cameras when stores are crowded. The “begging” business is also certain to have an uptick since there is a focus on family and children, and the contrast of opulence and poverty is apt to be dramatic–thus provoking feelings of guilt among those who go “ALL OUT” on the gift giving at Christmas.
TIME TO CASH IN: THE BUSINESS of GIVING
Those circumstances are not lost on various charitable organizations who go into high gear during the holiday season. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals unleashes some real tear jerkers on television. The Shriner’s Hospital, and St. Jude Hospital for children likewise are not shy about showing children in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs. There seems to be an increase in the number of starving children seen on TV along with severely impaired veterans leading one to assume there must be considerable competition for all that Christmas “goodwill” money. Charitable giving is also enhanced by those who want to take advantage of deductions prior to the end of the year. It is fertile ground and must be the charitable organizations’ equivalent of the retailer’s Black Friday.

 

DISCLAIMER to IMPENDING COMPLAINT
All of this is simply a preamble to my most recent complaint. In my defense, I feel compelled to issue a disclaimer that I am not anti-charity in any sense of the word. As a matter of fact, I believe that it does good things not only for the beneficiaries but often times even more for the giver. In my own case when I am feeling particularly beneficent, and drop a whole dollar bill in the Salvation Army pot, which is obviously designed to only receive coins, I walk away with a bit of a spring in my step feeling very righteous.

 

NO ANONYMOUS DONORS
Although I do not profess to be even a minor league philanthropist, I do manage to cough up a few bucks on occasion for charities which I think worthwhile. In recent times, we as a society have chosen to forfeit privacy in return for convenience. Consequently; it should not come as a surprise when organizations sell our names to other organizations. In one case I noted a very small print notice in the bottom of a solicitation that reassured me that although they passed my name to other charities, such organizations were carefully vetted to ensure their legitimacy. Somehow, I did not feel motivated to thank them for deciding to put my name on someone else’s sucker list without my permission. Since this seems to be standard operating procedure for these charities, it is not surprising that our gift giving is rewarded with a barrage of requests for money.

 

GOOD STUFF for “FREE” – NEW TACTICS
In recent years I have noted a new technique designed to squeeze some green from our pocketbooks which I find to be especially repugnant. I first noticed this several years ago with a solicitation from the March of Dimes. Some of you young whippersnappers may not know that this charity had its beginning as a quest to find a cure for Polio, but with the eradication of that disease, they didn’t want a good bureaucracy to go to waste so they switched to birth defects. Those of you who are on their list may have noticed a dime is attached to their fundraising letters.
I do not mean to denigrate the March of Dimes organization for they were very much involved in financing Salk and Sabin who developed the vaccines which eliminated that horrible disease that left children crippled for life. It was developed in 1938 with the help of Franklin Roosevelt, himself a victim of the disease. I recall fund drives at our school when we kids brought in dimes to be used for the cause. Of course, this was back in the time when a dime had some value, a time when the dime stores flourished and you could actually buy something for 10 cents. In addition to the financing, it provided for research. I am certain it also had great value in allowing kids to feel good about giving.

 

NOT A PENNY FROM ME
Although the March of Dimes pioneered this type of fundraising, others have carried the idea of sending a gift with their solicitation to a ridiculous extreme–which is the basis of the weekly complaint from this old curmudgeon. The dime was merely a symbol, while all the stuff I see arriving along with an essay concerning the plight of those who suffer from some horrible malady or situation, is accompanied by greeting cards, return address labels, ball point pens, calendars, calculators, and even money. The latter are the ones that I find most irritating. They apparently think that if they send me a check for a couple of dollars, I will feel obligated to send them money, which of course makes even less sense.

If these fund raisers in their infinite wisdom believe such tactics stimulate me to contribute to whatever they are selling, they are sadly mistaken. Instead, I feel insulted that they think they must give me something in order to get something from me, or is it that if I get something for free I will feel guilty if don’t respond. In either event, response to such tactics is unlikely to put that spring in my step.

The whole “tactic” just puts a damper on that feeling of goodwill that should accompany generosity. What’s the answer? Well, you could write a blog post about it (or let these charities know what you think by writing them an email or strongly worded letter). Also, Eshrink editor Maggie provided you with that charitynavigator website at the beginning of this post. ‘Tis the Season of Giving. Give wisely!!

The Annual Eshrink Christmas Letter

December 8, 2018

Dear Yuletide Revelers:

Some of you may be surprised to learn that we are still alive and well (sort of). I feel confident that my post-holiday decorating back pain will subside in time for me to suffer a reoccurrence while taking the stuff down. We do grunt, groan, and complain although our aches and pains are not expected to be fatal.

Tradition dictates that Christmas letters are for bragging about the accomplishments of one’s progeny spiced with little known facts about their superior intellect, physical prowess, good looks, and monumental achievements. However, in the spirit of the season, I have decided to forego such descriptions in order to spare you the painful envy of comparisons with your own brood. Consequently, I will only list their current vocational activities as follows in order of their ages:

  • Sue (Pete’s wife) continues in her heroic struggle to help severely disabled children.
  • Peter remains the star sales representative for Siffron.
  • Jim (Trudy’s husband) does contract engineering work for a chemical company.
  • Trudy is now reaching for the top rung of the ladder with Allergan.
  • Maggie, is the outstanding international marketing director for Hurco.
  • The grandkids as you might expect are also “well above average”, Emma as dietician in a large hospital, Simon an executive at a burgeoning start-up company, Carter a basketball coach at his alma mater Stonehill, Caroline with an academic scholarship at Indiana University and Sofia a straight A student and outstanding gymnast.

Those of you who are readers of my blog (there must be someone who is) are already acquainted with the exploits of our newest family member, Floyd the wonder dog. You may recall that on a few occasions his zeal for exploration has led him to lower car windows in order to leap out. His desire to meet new people motivated him to successfully eluded us more than once (we are not so speedy anymore). During such forays he has managed to gain entrance to several off-limits facilities including an IHOP restaurant, a grocery store, our local hospital, and the narthex of our church where he was escorted out in a rather unchristian like manner. In all the other cases he was greeted warmly (he does have a sparkling personality).

Our Thanksgiving, which the family spent at Trudy’s house was marred by tragedy which involved Floyd and Lucy, Trudy’s 18 yearold cat. Lucy had seen better days, but was nevertheless affectionate and Trudy’s favorite. She was a feline version of Helen Keller i.e. both deaf and blind with a moth-eaten appearance which was at first glance a bit off putting. Nevertheless, she was loved dearly and Trudy had found it difficult to make a decision to have her euthanized. In order to avoid gruesome details, I can only say that Floyd resolved Trudy’s ambivalence. Trudy’s devastation was made even worse because she was fond of Floyd. Needless to say, Floyd, although forgiven is now persona non grata at Trudy’s house (she has another cat). I am convinced that Floyd’s motives were pure and that his was an act of merciful euthanasia. I refuse to accept the premise that Floyd’s loving demeanor is simply an act to cover his true identity as a sadistic murderer. Yet there is the unsolved mystery of the possum and squirrel carcasses which appeared on our doorstep months ago.

Ah, but I digress for this is “the season to be jolly”, and certainly not a time to focus on morbid subjects. To that end, I need to mention the annual Smith family vacation of 2018 which is now archived along with 20 some previous ones (there is some disagreement as to the exact number) and I am happy to report that all survived. This year we rented a very well-appointed log house in the mountains of West Virginia, which even came equipped with a barn cat and a dog of undetermined lineage named Marley. We were told that Marley was a strictly outdoor dog however; he seemed quite comfortable hanging out in the house with the gang.   This did present some logistical problems since Marley liked to swim in the pond.

Marley was also frequently visited by a German Shepherd neighbor who acted like a puppy even though he was about the size of Shetland pony, and sounded like one as he galloped through the house. In any event he seemed to like us well enough and became a permanent fixture while we were there. I initially called him Henry, but he soon became known by the less formal name Hank. He liked to join his buddy Marley in an occasional swim in the pond after which he neglected to clean the mud from his paws (I hope the owners never read this). To the kids’ credit (I know what you are thinking but they will always be kids to me) there was a final push to undo the damage and the place was left looking “as if it never even happened”.

As usual the time was much too short, but at this point finding even one week in which all could get together has become difficult. Last minute obligations eliminated Carter, and Maggie’s arrival was delayed 2 days as was Pete’s due to work pressures in both cases. The highlight of the week was undoubtedly white-water rafting from which I had graciously excused myself. Barb was able to check off one item from her bucket list as we spent a day at the Greenbriar, but the best time for me was simply sitting on the porch listening to the quiet which was only corrupted by a chorus of singing birds. I was disappointed to find the place well populated with functioning television sets, but was able to limit my addiction although; I did relapse on a couple of occasions. It seems even the boondocks are no longer safe from the ravages of Trump fatigue.

You have probably noticed that this letter violates the long-held Smith rule for brevity for which I apologize, but in case you made it this far please know that Barb and I wish you all the merriest of Christmases, or happiest of Hanukkahs and the best year of your life.

Love to all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IS MY TIME WORTHLESS?

IS MY TIME WORTHLESS?
Ben Franklin said “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” I admit that I have not always followed his advice and that I have been a time squanderer of the first order at times in my life. Nevertheless, I strongly resent it when others take it upon themselves to squander a chunk of my time…my life!

 

IS MY CALL REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It seems to me that I am now surrounded by more time squanderers than any other time in life despite the conventional wisdom that we are now living in a time of unparalleled efficiency. We have all been subjected to the “your call is very important to us” mantra which is usually a prelude to an interminable time listening to some awful sounds masquerading as music. In most cases it would be much less frustrating to suffer in silence. Since such behavior surrounds us we have become inured to it, and in some cases have learned to find work-arounds. For example, whenever I call an organization that I expect will keep me waiting on the phone, I have learned to have reading material available so that I can put the phone on speaker and ignore the music and the automated voice which lies to me with reassurances that someone will be with me soon. Unfortunately, some such indignities cannot be so easily circumvented which brings up the issue of my complaint of the week.

 
MANNERS
My Mother once told me that good manners are simply a matter of showing respect for others. Then I married this woman who was a dyed-in-the-wool aficionado of Emily Post’s book of etiquette and who has devoted a lifetime to training me in such matters. Therefore, I feel such background qualifies me to judge this latest complaint to be near the top of the list of ill-mannered behaviors, and a significant squanderer of my time. As a matter of fact, it ranks right up there near CNN or blog writing as a significant waster of time. I must confess I do feel some ambivalence about ratting out my colleagues because this time I am complaining about the medical profession.

 
THE GATEKEEPERS
In the past I have lodged complaints about the inaccessibility of physicians and the barriers that have been erected to keep doctors isolated from their patients i.e. receptionist, to nurse, to nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant, and if one’s concern is deemed serious enough, he/she may receive a return call from the nurse or even the great one himself/herself. However; this latest complaint was brought to the fore by a series of events over the last few weeks. It began with a routine visit to my doctor which began with hope that he was running nearly on time since there were only a couple of people in the waiting room.

 
They put the WAITING in the term Waiting Room
I settled in to read a dog-eared magazine of unknown vintage with all the latest (at that time) news about the royal family (not a major interest of mine). It did seem a better choice than the stack of Good Housekeeping magazines. Time passed and I realized that I had been waiting for well over an hour and a half which seemed like an even longer time than I had waited during previous visits. I risked the wrath of the receptionist who was busy chatting with a colleague to inquire if I had the wrong day. She calmly and unapologetically announced that the doctor had been called to the hospital to do an emergency procedure and she didn’t expect him back for another hour or so. When I suggested that if I had known this I could have found other ways to use the time, she shrugged, turned her back to me, and continued the conversation with her friend.

 
This was precisely the type of situation for which I had been trained all those years consequently; with great difficulty I withheld the stream of profanity which longed to stream out for all to hear. Instead, I decided to channel my anger into something useful much as I had been taught. My anger was not directed at the Doctor as I am well aware that emergencies do occur. I am also aware that physicians are not always in touch with what goes on in their outer office. I have been as guilty as the next guy in occasionally running behind, but to my credit I encouraged my receptionist to keep patients informed of probable delays. I also tried to remember to apologize for my tardiness.

 
THE TIME OF RECKONING
With all that in mind I decided to inform the good Doctor about what was going on in his waiting room in a very calm deliberative, hopefully constructive, manner. His response was underwhelming as he responded with: “those things happen sometimes.”

 

WHAT? THOSE THINGS HAPPEN SOMETIMES?
Naive little old me had expected at a minimum maybe an acknowledgement of my distress, an apology for having been held hostage for over two hours, or even a thank you for letting him know that the gum-smacker at the front desk was a screw-up. I did not respond with my usual sarcastic comment out of fear that he might decide I needed a rectal examination.

 
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
That experience pales however; compared to Barb’s recent run-in with the medical establishment of which I was an unwitting and unwilling participant. It all began with her visit to our internist for what seemed like a simple problem. When the problem was not resolved, he referred her to a super specialist, i.e., (a person who specializes in a specialty, as when a cancer doctor only treats one kind of cancer or an orthopedist limits his practice to the treatment of big toes). Barb had been forewarned that she should not plan any other activities on the day of her appointment, but little did she know how apt was her friend’s warning.
We arrived at the appointed time with a several page questionnaire filled out as per instructions. A real time saver, right?

Wrong!

We still waited and waited (plus, Barb said he didn’t even look at the questionnaire. Since I was forewarned by Barb’s buddy, I came armed with a boring book. Little did I know that I would finish it before we escaped. Our adventure began with a conventional 1½ hour waiting room experience, and although suffering minor frustration, I felt encouraged after the nurse called for Barb thinking that we would likely make it home in time for lunch after all.

Wrong again.

After another 40 minutes or so, a crotchety nurse came out to tell me that Barb had asked for me to come back to the treatment area where I found her shivering under a paper sheet. When I asked her what the Doctor said she replied that she had not seen him yet, but that she was feeling claustrophobic having been imprisoned and refrigerated in an examining room somewhat smaller than a San Quentin prison cell.

 

When I asked the crotchety nurse if the good Doctor was often late, she replied in the affirmative at the same time complaining that although she was supposed to work until 5 she rarely left before 7 or 8 PM. I assumed this had a great deal to do with her crotchety-ness. The rest of this visit is a bit hazy to me. Suffice it to say when the doctor arrived on the scene, he was very affable and impressed me with his knowledge of the problem at hand. He was unhurried as we chatted about a variety of topics. Our quest for health and happiness had begun at 10:30 AM and we were out the door by 1:45 PM.

 
Lest you think this concluded our dealings with Dr. P…… let me assure you this was not to be our last encounter for he decided that Barb needed a minor diagnostic procedure under anesthesia, and Ms. Crotchety scheduled it for the following week at 1:00 pm. I was not surprised by the time since such minor procedures are usually scheduled after the major surgeries are completed consequently; the schedules for the minor stuff are at best only estimates. With that in mind, I was heartened when we received a call on the day of her minor procedure a few minutes after 12 informing us that Dr. P…… was ahead of schedule and asking us if we could come in earlier. We were there in 15 minutes.

 

Certainly, to be ahead of schedule would virtually guarantee that the procedure could be finished before we caught some drug resistant hospital bug.

 

Wrong again.

 

Although we were promptly ushered into a refrigerated pre-op prep room (one would think the medical establishment would be aware that we old folks are susceptible to major problems from hypothermia), my hopes were dashed as another hour and a half of the stuff my life is made of was squandered. I could have used that time for an afternoon nap. There was a bright spot in the afternoon however when a cute young nurse witnessed Barb shivering in her backless gown and wrapped her in a heated blanket. This may have been the lifesaving act of the day. I have no idea what the mortality rate is in that room, but we survived and I live on to continue in my quest to become the most ardent complainer of our time.
It has turned out that I am not alone in my zeal to achieve the status of Olympic class complainer however; I would caution those so inclined to be robust in registering their complaints (manners be damned) lest their development be arrested at the level of whiner, which is likely to result in chronic emotional constipation. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the foregone conclusion is based on anecdotal information and I know of no large-scale studies to validate my opinion. I also feel bound to issue the caveat that in this era of concealed carry permits one should whenever possible cleanse their complaints of personal insults.

Looking for trees? Check my mailbox.

Our mailman does not seem to like us although Barb and I both consider ourselves to be as likeable as the next guy. Whenever I meet him at our mailbox, he doesn’t respond to my characteristic jolly greeting, but simply hands me my mail, grunts, looks straight ahead and drives away. Old habits die hard and this old psychiatrist still tries to understand aberrant behaviors. Consequently, I have attempted to understand what may have precipitated his apparent animus.

 

The Investigation: Why does my mailman hate me?
It is true that I forgot to leave his traditional tip in the mailbox at Christmas time, but of course that was several months ago.

There was also the Floyd incident, but I wouldn’t anticipate his blaming me for my dog’s exuberant behavior. Floyd loves to ride in the car and isn’t choosy about the type of vehicle or driver. Consequently, when the mail truck pulled up to mailbox one summer day, Floyd seized the opportunity. He leaped into the mail truck with excitement with big plans to accompany our mailman on his route. Unfortunately, in the process Floyd was forced to run through a gauntlet of boxes and crates of mail resulting in the rearrangement of their contents. However, the mailman was remarkably calm throughout the incident and accepted my apology, although I did note that he was muttering to himself as he restored order to the crates of mail.

 

My Epiphany! It’s not me. It’s those damn catalogs.
After all of these deliberations, I have concluded that the ire exhibited by my mailman has the same genesis as my own.

You see, just yesterday he delivered 23 catalogs in addition to two magazines and multiple solicitations from organizations, some of whom I have never heard of, and this was only a routine day. If history is any guide, the volume will increase as the holiday season approaches. Instead of emptying my paper recycling bin once a month, I now must empty it every few days. No wonder my mailman becomes frustrated since he must stuff all that stuff in my mailbox daily.

 

Nothing unites like a common enemy.
His pain is my pain! I sympathize with my mailman’s frustration. I get angry each time I have to unload that mailbox, cursing as I sort the scams from the legitimate mail. As a bona fide card-carrying curmudgeon I must tell you that I remember the day when if one wanted a catalog they asked for it. Today, if you order something  from a catalog, you will soon be buried in an avalanche of slick pictures of beautiful people wearing cool clothes and hawking gadgets I’m sure I need but know I’ll never use. Not only do I resent their audacity of sending the catalog without me requesting it, I resent that they believe they can convince me that I look as cool in those duds as the suave handsome dude who models their stuff.
Some of these catalogs feature stuff way beyond my pay grade. For example, I do not ordinarily shop for $1500 leather jackets, $600 sweaters, or $750 shoes. One such high end catalog featured of all things a $250 pair of jeans faded in all the right places to make them look old. I do occasionally browse and sometimes find interesting inventory. For example, one which featured home health aides also had a two-page display of dildos. I was surprised to find they came in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Barb vigorously denies having ordered the catalog, but I have my suspicions.

 

The good ole’ days of face-to-face relationships
It is no secret that there is a flourishing market for names and addresses of potential customers and that these catalogers have no hesitation in selling us to the highest bidder. I recall the time of the mom and pop stores when the relationship between customer and seller was built on mutual trust and therefore personal. The storekeeper was more interested in customer loyalty than making a sale, trusting that if his customer was “treated right” he would come back. Likewise, the customer trusted the salesperson to give an honest representation of the product sold. In many cases shopping was as much of a social event as a series of business transactions. I suppose that now as even we former Sears catalog devotees fade-away, we will become even more depersonalized as we become numbers in Amazon’s super computer. Our computers will order from their computers, our orders will arrive untouched by human hands, and one more avenue of human interaction will close.
Shopping: Art, Science, Disease, or Therapy?
Enter my beautiful, charming, and aesthetically gifted wife. She is a former shopkeeper one of the last to conform to those qualities I mentioned, and whose store continues to receive rave reviews from former customers. Among her other talents she is a world class shopper. As our daughter Molly (now deceased) said regarding her Mother’s shopping prowess: “when Mom gets the scent, you better get out of her way.” For Barb, Christmas shopping is not a project, it is a mission. She scoffs at the idea that it would be much simpler for her to give the kids money and insists on finding a gift (or unfortunately–gifts…plural) which are perfect for each one whether they realize it or not. Things to be considered include: hair and eye color, stature, personality, and consideration of their known personal preferences unless those preferences are in extremely poor taste.
Within the past year the last department store as well as the last men’s store in our town closed their doors. I recall a time when our main street hosted three department stores and multiple specialty shops which have all folded as the big boxes took over. Having fought and lost the good fight with the big guys, and since she places online shopping in the same category as those big box adversaries, the best Barb can do is to reluctantly shop via catalogs even though she disapproved of the one featuring dildos. I presume this change in her shopping habits is responsible in large part for the appearance of our names on a few hundred mailing lists.

 

The List Contagion: It’s a real thing
It’s not only the merchandisers who will pursue you. Barb is a sucker for those tear-jerking ads on TV, which has resulted in reams of solicitations for real and non-existent charities. I wonder if they make more money selling my name and address than from my feeble contributions. In my zeal to become a good steward of my government, I once made the mistake of contributing to a political campaign online. Now, I start my day by deleting pleas to contribute to this or that political cause or candidate. They assure me that without my contribution a worldwide calamity is immanent or that I will be to blame for the extinction of the white rhino.

 

Privacy?
On a more serious note, it has been said that with a few key strokes one can know more about me than I do about myself. This is undoubtedly true e.g. I don’t know where I ate a year ago but that info is available somewhere. Our privacy is said to have been eroded, but it is probably more accurate to say it is gone. Now, as more DNA results are collected not only will more be known about your behavior but your body and your relatives. Nevertheless, the blatant disregard of our rights to privacy as this little essay illustrates is only one small example yet enough to piss me off big time.

 

Ground Zero
Maybe my overzealous anger about the catalogs goes beyond the senseless time spent sorting and recycling and even beyond the invasion of my privacy. Maybe it’s a symptom of something bigger that concerns me. A change in our society that is worrisome. While many say technological changes make it easier than ever to connect with one another, it seems we are more disconnected than ever. Less human interaction. More loneliness. Clicking the chat button as you order gifts on the internet, or even talking to a live person when you order from one of the thousand or so catalogs, is a poor substitute for the process of old-fashioned shopping at the aforementioned brick and mortar establishments where you talked to retail clerks, shop owners, and even fellow shoppers.

 

A little over 100 years ago, a sociologist name of Emile Durkheim coined the term Anomie which he used to describe situations where societies in large measure feel a sense of alienation because their only feeling of attachment is to the system in which they don’t believe or feel a part of. He thought this came about due to division of labor (this was in the midst of the industrial revolution) and rapid change from a traditional society to a modern society.

 

The pace of changes which Durkheim witnessed were trivial compared to the last 50 years, and it change continues to accelerate at a speed almost beyond our ability to comprehend. Yesterday, I awoke to hear news of the second mass shooting in less than two weeks. I believe it noteworthy that most of the perpetrators of these horrible acts were described as people with few if any acquaintances and no one who was willing to call them a friend. They were described as quiet and uninvolved in their communities, in short: alienated.

 

It also seems noteworthy that in spite of relatively good economic times, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 24% from 1999 to 2014. Likewise, murders increased 8.6% in only one year (2016). According to the non-profit that tracks gun violence in the USA, (www.gunviolence.org) incidents have increased each year since they started tracking statistics in 2014. Conventional wisdom is that our current President was elected and continues to have widespread support from those who feel they have been “disenfranchised.”

 

Who is the patient?
This all suggests to me that we need to look farther than individuals with mental illness as the major factor in gun violence. It may be that it is our society that is ill, and in need of treatment. Human connection, kindness, and compassion might not help cure all of society’s mental illnesses, but it can’t hurt.

 

P.S. Catalog UPDATE
By the way, I just now picked up today’s mail and there were only 18 catalogs, but an armload of solicitations for money, some bills, and a letter from my only friend who still writes via snail mail.  Remember to be kind to your mailperson (especially this time of year).  There may be other Floyds out there and I’m sure there are even more catalog targets like me and Barb on every mail carrier’s route.  (Break for reminiscing): When I was in college a couple of centuries ago I worked as a mailman during Christmas breaks, and occasionally someone would invite me in for a cup of hot chocolate on the coldest days.  I wonder if that happens anymore.

Editors Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this non-profit whose mission is to help us cancel unwanted catalogs: Catalog Choice . However, I haven’t told eshrink yet because I don’t want to rain on his curmudgeon complaint parade…he’s on a roll and I think it energizes him! Love you dad.

CURMUDGEONS RISE UP!

Since the polls seem to indicate that my politically oriented blogs have had little effect on solving the world’s problems, I have decided to concentrate on using what energies I have left, to do what we old folks do best. With decades of experience watching the world become even more screwed-up than it was when we entered the picture, we are in a position to become expert complainers. BONUS: now that we are retired, we have the time to exercise that talent.

COULDN’T I BE RIGHT JUST ONCE?
Unfortunately, as Barb can attest, in my zeal to exercise that hard-won ability, I usually become all puffed up, well-rehearsed, and ready to raise hell, only to be deflated when I find out that my complaint was not valid. Just today, I called ready to do battle with my trash collecting company because I thought they had come on the wrong day. I vowed not to be deterred from my mission by the sweet little voice who answered the phone, but as usual, I was wrong about the schedule. It seems the time spent rehearsing my vituperative speech was all for naught.

 

I DON’T GET NO RESPECT
This kind of experience happens to me all too often, especially now that my brain has been softened by the effects of the mild cognitive impairment that is common to us old farts. It is true that I have never been particularly adept at confrontation except when I am in control, as in the case of most therapeutic relationships. Teddy Roosevelt famously advised: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” I am a soft speaker, but evidently my stick is not large enough. Therefore, I envy those guys whose commanding voices garner instant attention while my feeble attempts at conversation are drowned. It occurs to me that perhaps this accounts for my choice of writing as a way to register my complaints (my shrink would have been proud of me for such an insight).

 

TIME TO LET IT ALL HANG OUT
Due to my limited capacity to vocalize my disdain, I now find myself bulging with unleashed bitching. Some of you who have read my previous blogs (there must be someone who has) may have noticed that I have already listed a number of complaints, but rest assured my reservoir is a bottomless pit. Previous complaints have been of national or global import but since they have had no effect on the screwed-up world, I have decided to start at the bottom and work my way up to the big stuff such as climate change, environmental degradation, bigotry, poverty, and crooked, lying or impaired government leaders.

THE WAR OF WORDS (OR LACK THEREOF): ACRONYM ASSAULT IS ON
With that in mind I have decided to start on an issue which many would consider minor, but which bugs me to distraction. It is the current fad that anything of importance must be abbreviated. In my opinion acronyms should be banned from everything except kid’s cellphones (most don’t learn spelling in school). They have their own phonetic system of short hand for their digital meanderings.

 

IT’S NOT THAT I AM SENILE
The use of its beginning letter as a substitute for a word has long frustrated me to the point of unexpressed profanity, but has become even more of a problem as I see my short-term memory decay along with the rest of me. It is unclear to me when the use of acronyms in the scientific literature first began, but as research became more complex the words got longer and the acronyms more frequent. It has now become SOP (see what I did there?) for every key word or phrase to appear once, thence its acronym is used throughout the rest of the paper. There are so many key words or phrases in any paper, that I find myself going back frequently to find the word which defines the acronym. Fortunately, my long-term memory is still intact and I do recall having the same problem when I was a young whippersnapper.

 

MODERATION WOULD BE GOOD
Now, I realize that DNA is easier to say or write than deoxyribonucleic acid, and that CRISPR is a much more sensible name for the process used in genome editing technology than “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” Nevertheless, I challenge anyone to read any issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, for example without becoming confused by all the abbreviations. I can handle a few of these lingual abominations, but doubt that the use of words would take up so much space as to cause the use of more pages.

 

ETYMOLOGY
As to the origin of such ubiquitous use of acronyms in the scientific literature in medicine, I suspect that it has to do with the fact that prior to the digital age physicians spent endless hours writing reports, clinical records, treatment notes, etc., long hand. Since we were always in a hurry, it is not surprising that our writing would eventually become illegible. I was one of those dinosaurs who found writing BPH rather than Benign Prostate Hypertrophy was a time saver, likewise CHF for Congestive Heart Failure or COPD for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There are abbreviations for every diagnosis or procedure imaginable, but in a time when most young doctors type faster than we can talk, or in many cases, Alexa types for them, why not use words?

 

FOLLOW THE MONEY
In 1969, the FDA in their infinite wisdom decided to allow pharmaceutical advertising and the drug companies jumped on the bandwagon presumably thinking that they would sound more medical with acronyms. The first such ad that came to my attention featured Viagra as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, or ED for short. It was endorsed by, of all people, Bob Dole, a senior senator who was defeated in a bid for President by Bill Clinton in 1996. It is true that following the divorce from his first wife, Bob married a much younger woman. Consequently, he may have become sufficiently impressed with the efficacy of Viagra that he became an ardent supporter and wanted to spread the good news to fellow ED sufferers.

I can attest to the fact that there are many such enthusiasts. I recall the first time I prescribed Viagra. It was so successful that my patient called less than a week later requesting a refill in spite of my having prescribed 10 tablets with directions to be used “as needed.” Nevertheless, in Bob’s case I suspect that financial rather than public service interests motivated him to share more about his personal life than we wanted to know.

 

I FEEL BETTER, HBU?
But the beat goes on for just last night I saw an ad on television repeated ad nauseum hawking medication for PE and DVT, and I won’t tell you what diagnoses they represent. See what I mean? In spite of the realization that my complaint will be “little noted or long remembered” and have no effect on how we communicate, I do feel some relief. Additionally, I am comforted by the belief that Miss Higgins (my high school English teacher) would be proud of me for she had described the use of the contraction “ain’t” in the place of “isn’t” as “a willingness to corrupt language in order to avoid one syllable.”