On The 12th Day Of …

Melissa Clark is a food writer for the NYTimes, and a favorite of mine because of her lack of pretentiousness and her excellent sense of humor. But for her first New Year piece she took a slightly different tack, based on a statistic that alarmed her.

The results were crystal clear and deeply depressing. Meat and dairy production alone account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — as much each year as from all cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. It’s a staggering statistic.

NYTimes January 2020

She described how logically this should push her into total vegetarianism, but … there were too many foods in these categories that she loved to give them up altogether. So she plans on giving “flexitarianism” a go in 2020.

That’s basically where Robin and I are as of today. Our teensy meat intake, especially of beef, is enough to make a cattle rancher weep bitter tears. But we do have some dairy every day in our glass of kefir (which has those magical probiotic properties, you know), and cheeses seem to me a gift from heaven.

Lastly, I’m afraid that unwillingness to give up bacon has been largely responsible for my remaining a carnivore. What can I say? I embarrass myself sometimes.

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On Friday morning the NYTimes printed an article about the death of a New Jersey couple that tapped into some conversations I’ve been a part of in the past few years.

The story isn’t unique in any of its particulars, really. Young man and young woman fall in love, get married, raise children, and grow older. Then the wife develops dementia and rapidly goes down the path to where the person she was is replaced by someone who is basically helpless and fearful, living in a world where she recognizes no one and no place.

Then the story takes a turn and goes its own sad way. The loving husband takes his wife’s life and then his own. Murder-suicide is how it is recorded. Such grim words. Such a grim situation.

It’s actually a well-written piece. Robin and I have direct experience, as do millions of others, with a loved one who develops dementia, and the long slow slide the rest of her life became. We’ve declared to each other that this drawn-out process will not be repeated in our own cases, without having a clear idea of exactly what we would do if it happened to one of us. Or both of us.

America in 2020 has a very few states in which a terminally ill person can choose to end their own life. There are many hoops to run through in these states, but in the end there is a packet of pills to take and no one goes to prison.

But none of those states allows someone who has dementia to get that packet of pills for themselves. So if someone decides they would rather take matters into their own hands they are left with only awkward alternatives. They can drive their cars into trees, employ firearms, lie about their health and try to stockpile the drugs they are given, attempt to starve themselves … it’s not a pretty landscape, that.

Of course, there is an additional aspect to the story in the Times. It is that the husband makes the choice for his wife, who had lost the power to make decisions of any kind. At that point he entered a zone where there were no self-help books, no support groups, no family ties or religion to fall back on. A space where he was utterly and completely alone.

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Just in case anyone is alarmed by the post above, neither Robin nor myself has dementia. We’ll let you know if that ever changes.

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The story of the bullying cat next door continues. Twice this past week he drove Willow screeching into our house and would have come in after her but for my presence. On another occasion he stood between her and the cat entrance until I chased him away.

I’ve spoken with the cat’s owners on two occasions, but I may not have expressed our unhappiness clearly enough. So when they were away for the holidays and an issue arose, I sent them a letter. Nothing nasty, just a written document expressing our frustration and our concern for the safety of the pets we love.

They love their cat as well, a fact which has come across in our conversations, but I think that they haven’t fully accepted how poorly he plays with others. At this point, none of their choices are happy ones. They would have to confine him to an indoor existence or farm him out to another family, perhaps one living in a rural setting. Or do nothing and live next door to an increasingly cranky man with poor impulse control.

I wish them well in their deliberations.

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Sunday morning’s NYTimes carried an interview with the actor John Malkovich, which ranged over several different topics. Near the end of the piece was this exchange:

Has playing the pope and also a Harvey Weinstein-type figure in David Mamet’s recent play “Bitter Wheat” led you to any new insights about men in power?

A few years ago, I was touring in an opera-hybrid theater thingy in Europe, “Just Call Me God.” I played a Saddam Hussein-like figure, but a line I wrote in that was “the one thing I know about power is the good never seek it.” And that’s not wholly inaccurate.

Amen, brother.

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