Looking For Mom And Pop

We’re off to South Dakota later this morning. Plans are to bed down in North Platte NE for the night, then drive on to Yankton SD the next day. The total trip distance (to Yankton) is 866 miles, give or take a foot. North Platte seems a decent little town, with the usual cluster of motels, restaurants, and gas stations along the interstate. We’ve chosen the Husker Inn, which came up #1 on Trip Advisor. It looks to be a typical mom-and-pop establishment … one level, each room opening directly onto the parking lot. Seems just right for traveling in the Covid era, with fewer opportunities to actually come in contact with other living and breathing human beings.

Even before the pandemic came along, these little places were my favorites when traveling. Not when the hotel is a destination, mind you, but when all you want is a clean bed in a clean room for the night. Forgot something in the car? Why, it’s no problem at all. Your vehicle is just outside your door.

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The weather here in Paradise promises nothing but sunshine for the next week, with very moderate temperatures. It’s the golden time of year, when all the windows can be open and neither the A/C nor the furnace are needed. Most of the flying things that bite you are long gone, and you can actually walk to the end of the block without needing a full canteen.

Our cats love this weather. They tolerated (because they had to, as did we all) the slow roasting that this past summer provided, but now they can sleep or stretch out whenever and wherever. It is what cats do best. Total inactivity interspersed with bursts of intense mouse-chasing. Last evening Willow caught three mice in four hours, bringing each one indoors and being instantly shooed back out. Robin and I are just not into providing living space for small rodents.

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I was sitting here with my second cup of coffee as companion, thinking back on the good parts of our camping season this year, which did have its negative aspects, I admit. But in between calamities there were moments of great beauty and serenity. There was also the feeling that I get at those times of being, I don’t know, sort of capable. We pick a spot, we erect a shelter, we cook our food under relatively primitive conditions. We eat a pine needle or two in our chili and call it seasoning. If a fleck of forest duff blows into my coffee cup in the morning I fish it out and keep on drinking.

We clean up after ourselves while paying attention to what needs to be done to keep bears honest (and alive). In short, for a few days we take care of ourselves with few barriers between us and the natural world. It’s sweaty and dirty and showers are hard to come by but we do profit.

You don’t need to go to the woods or the mountains to meditate, to get some perspective, but it is just so much easier to do it out there. At least it is for me.

When I leave home for these few days each year, the absence of distractions helps me to be mindful. I am ancient enough that I had my brand of ADD for thirty years before everybody knew there was such a thing. Robin can tell you that taking me out to lunch in a sports-bar sort of establishment is a bad idea. All those television screens going at once makes me crazy, and I don’t get back to full self-control until we’ve paid the bill and walked out. I may not even remember what I ate, and my shirtfront is occasionally covered with mustard.

But put me in the woods, and you can have my full attention. I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything. I am entirely present. The real trick? To be able to do that when I return home. When the student asked the venerable Zen Buddhist monk how to achieve enlightenment, his answer was: “Chop wood, carry water.” Meaning you can achieve peace in your life by doing everyday tasks and living everyday life, but doing it all mindfully.

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From The New Yorker

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On Wednesday I went to see my grandson, the ophthalmologist. No, he’s not really. My grandson, that is. He’s just that young. I had cataract surgery on the left eye a couple of years ago, but the right eye wasn’t bad enough to please the folks at Medicare. They have their criteria as to when they are willing to pay for surgical correction. Time passes and the cataract worsens and finally you qualify. For about six months now I haven’t enjoyed three-dimensional vision because the right lens is mostly clouded over. So today I gave all the right answers on the questionnaire and got on the schedule for surgery at the end of October.

The surgery should be pretty much a breeze … for me, that is. I don’t know how it is for the surgeon, because I see him only for a nanosecond and then somebody gives me something very nice to tumble me off to sleep. When I wake up this time I will see well out of both eyes, thank the nurses, and Robin will take me home. Piece of cake. A miracle of sorts, made possible entirely through technology.

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I moved my writing station to the front of our home this past week. It’s less private, but I do get to watch a different set of people moving around, some of them in their automobiles. You remember autos? Before electric vehicles came around, people actually depended on those smelly and noisy internal combustion engines which did so much harm to the environment.

To make things worse, they had no guidance systems, but were piloted solely through the skillset of the driver. Which varied so much that there were tens of thousands of citizens who were mowed down by their neighbors each year in horrific collisions of flesh and bone versus metal and plastic. Of course we still have the odd collision nowadays, when an onboard computer develops a glitch. Like last year when that semi-trailer plowed through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and when the police approached the truck they found no one in the cab. Somehow its program had gone off and started the engine without any human input, and that was all she wrote.

At any rate, there are still a few of those things around here in Paradise, and since most of them are operated by senior citizens, be aware of that fact if you come to visit us and set your EV’s hazard control systems to “High Alert.”

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Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

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Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

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It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

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We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

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Miss It?

Even though I’ve been retired quite a while now, there are still times when meeting new people that I am asked what I used to do when I was a productive member of society. I tell them I was a children’s doctor. Their followup question is frequently “Do you miss it?”

I usually give the short answer “Parts of it.” And that seems to satisfy the stranger.

The long answer is that there are parts that I miss terribly, and some that I wouldn’t revisit for anything you could offer me. There are also parts, quite a lot of them, actually, that bored me to death.

I do not miss being the bearer of bad tidings to parents. Not in the slightest.

I do not miss the routines, where a well-tuned android could do the same thing that I did, perhaps better because they are sooo reliable and never forget.

I do miss the thrill of waiting in an emergency room for the ambulance to arrive, with a team beside me. Not knowing exactly what was coming, and worried/scared each time that I would not be up to the challenge. Then to be completely lost for a time in the struggle to sometimes reclaim a life and hand it back to the person. That, I miss. (Adrenaline junkie variant?)

For similar reasons, I miss the excruciating nervousness during a high-risk delivery, when the baby-yet-to-be-born’s vital signs had turned to merde. Waiting with the knowledge that there was no one else in the room with the skillset that I had, and wanting so achingly for the obstetrician to please get that baby out and give it to me so I could do what I knew to do.

That, I miss.

I miss the puzzles posed in differential diagnosis, where a patient or parent tells you a few things, an examination tells you a few things more, and perhaps the lab or x-ray departments make a contribution as well. And then it is you, using that mainframe in your head going over and over the data, back and forth, testing and rejecting hypotheses before you finally come up with an answer. Sometimes you have weeks to make up your mind, sometimes a tiny fraction of that time.

That’s a longer answer to the question.

The one that if I tried to give it each time I was asked, I would probably end up talking to the back of the stranger’s head as they walked away. We don’t always really want the answers to the polite questions we ask.

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I, Too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides, 
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

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P.S.A.

It’s the nineteenth of April, and I will now perform a public service by summarizing what we know to date about the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes. As an former medical professional, I believe that I am uniquely suited to this important task.

  • It may have come to the U.S. earlier than we first thought, or maybe it didn’t
  • It might be possible to re-catch it, but probably not
  • There might be a drug that is effective, but maybe it isn’t
  • A vaccine might be coming this year, or maybe not
  • It might be soon time to re-open things … but probably it’s too early
  • Masks might not be helpful for most of us, but we should wear them anyway
  • Unlike STDs, you might be able to catch it from doorknobs and toilet seats … or perhaps this isn’t true, and we should relax and go to a movie

There now, don’t you feel better?

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One of my favorite Buddhist stories came up recently at a recent online AA meeting, one where we were discussing pre-existing attitudes and how they colored what we saw and experienced.

The story goes like this.

A man was walking along a dusty road and saw a village off in the distance. At the side of the road a blind man was sitting peacefully with his begging bowl and bothering no one.

The traveler asked the blind man:

Are you from that village?

Yes, I am

What kind of people live in that village?

What kind of people live in the town you are from?

Oh, they were terrible. Grasping and greedy, gossiping and lazy.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

The first traveler grimaced and continued on his journey. A second pilgrim then came down the road. When he saw the blind man, he asked the same question.

What sort of people live in that village?

The people in the village you are from – how would you describe them?

Oh, they are lovely. Kind and generous of spirit. There are no lengths they wouldn’t go to in order to help a sufferer, even a stranger.

Well, I think you’ll find the people in my village are much like that.

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I will close today with these observations by Andy Borowitz, a man cursed with an unclouded vision.

Dr. Oz Fears That Coronavirus Comments Could Hurt His Credibility as Expert on MagicBeans

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My Yang Is Acting Up Today, So Where’s My Yin When I Really Need It?

A person with COVID-19 has popped up in Gunnison, which is 50 miles away. Actually, I suspect that there are cases right here in Paradise, we just haven’t identified them as such, and maybe never will because the victims are not all that ill.

What’s the good news in this evolving story? Well, one positive item is that kids don’t seem to get very sick if they catch it. That’s a good thing. Wait, it’s also a bad thing – because if they aren’t very sick they’ll be taken along to grandpa’s house for dinner and run into his arms for that warm and loving hug and … adios, viejo.

It’s the old Yin-Yang thing once again, it seems. Everything contains within itself its opposite. As in this passage from the Tao Te Ching.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I thought this symbol was cool long before I was taught anything about its meaning. Once that little bit of instruction came along, I thought it was even cooler.

Especially the part that teaches that is is difficult if not impossible to be all “bad,” or all “good.” There is always that obverse presence, that little white or black dot. And even then, the size of those dots can grow or recede over time as well.

I was thinking about this at an AA meeting recently as another member was droning on and on in his fingernail-on-the-blackboard voice. What he was saying was just as irritating as his delivery, since he had badly misinterpreted several points of what AA is supposed to be about.

So I mentally pictured him as a six-foot column of yang, and then tried to imagine what that little white dot of yin would be in his case. I eventually settled on this: his mother probably loved him.

(Which might have been completely untrue, and one of the very reasons that he became an addict in the first place.)

Excuse me, but I’ve made myself quite dizzy with this heavy thinking, and will return when I’ve had a chance to compose myself. Don’t wait up.

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Your stomach doesn’t know the difference. It’s what I tell myself when my cooking goes astray and what I have put on our plates borders on appalling.

Like last night at supper, when I had cooked up some hamburger patties that looked just fine on the outside, but were soon found to be quite rare internally. So I dropped them into the microwave, seriously overestimated the time necessary to touch them up, and turned those slightly deficient patties into a beef-flavored material that could profitably be used to plug holes in leaking dikes.

But as we gnawed our way through them, I said under my breath: Your stomach doesn’t know the difference.

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Apparently President Cluck gave another stinker of a speech Wednesday night, the one dealing with the coronavirus. I didn’t watch it, following the orders of my personal physician, Dr. Hippolytus Goodacre. He allots me five seconds of exposure to His Leadership per day, which is the amount of time it takes me to change the channel while moving at my swiftest.

I am not surprised at all that he bombed, since he is up against inconvenient truths that refuse to go away and which call him out as a fool and a liar on a daily basis. I think we should all give thanks to the Republicans for providing us with this serialized amusement.

Thank you, Republican Party members of congress, for bringing us President Cluck, and for forsaking the oaths you took to defend our country by keeping him in office. May you be rewarded with excruciating itching everywhere, hiccups that can’t be stopped, and an awakening of your hemorrhoids to a biblical degree of severity.

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There are some songs that are just perfect for those times when romance goes a bit off on you. When you are making a decision to stop being a soggy mess and give life and love a go once again, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed outcomes.

I rounded up a couple of those this morning, one sung by a lady and the other a gentleman. I give you the Bruce and his anthem – Tougher Than The Rest, and Lady Emmylou with a song from a semi-obscure album – Woman Walk The Line.

You’re welcome.

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