Labels dehumanize people, justify hatred

Our “traveling road show” culture loves to put labels on people, especially people who refuse to buy a ticket to their show.

As a retired reporter, I understand the value of tagging people. Labels make it possible to study and write about wide swaths of the population as if people were chemical compounds that act predictably under given circumstances. They also dehumanize subjects, fracture the nation and make implications that are often untrue and seething with hate.

The media would tag me a “white, evangelical voter” who, purely by having the label pinned upon me, means I also am fiercely pro-gun, pro-Trump and pro-Republican.” In fact, if one listens to them, I am to blame for Donald J. Trump being in the White House because I am white, male and “religious.” Accordingly, every societal woe and governmental failure since January 2017 has been heaped upon my back.

Truth is, I voted independent in 2016 and, given the pathetic options offered by the two major parties in 2020, I will vote that way again. I hate guns, regard Donald Trump as a dangerous narcissist and threat to our national security. And, while I once considered myself a Republican, I swore off the party after daddy Bush and his son took us into wars we could not win and racked up huge debts we’ll never be able to repay. The last straw was working for and being unfairly dismissed by a sneaky, all-Republican board of commissioners.  Therefore, I give my apologies to the researchers and journalists who are counting on me to vote like their label insists I will. This white, evangelical will never fill in another “Republican” oval unless it once again becomes the party of Lincoln.

Imposed labels cannot reveal the complexities of the human below the adhesive, and they are almost always derogatory. Accordingly, in a kind, all-inclusive culture like our own, they ought not be applied recklessly, but they are. Conversely, self-imposed labels carry positive connotations about the adopter while hinting at deep disdain for those who cannot claim the tagline, such as “feminist,” “university-educated” and “activist.”

Some labels, on the surface, ought to come with no hidden connotations, such as male and female. Unfortunately, because our culture has embraced transgenderism, one can get into trouble for calling a male a male when she (or he) thinks himself/herself a female. The omnipresence of transgressing transgender labels makes me thankful I am retired and don’t have to worry about misidentifying someone in print and thereby face possible dismissal and labeling as a “transphobic.” Nevertheless, I find it difficult to follow news stories that speak of a woman having a wife. I am left to wonder if the reporter got something wrong. But then I remember we are living in a new age to which my old brain has not adjusted.

Indeed, I have been labeled “homophobic” because of my antiquated Christian views on homosexuality. I want to be clear about this: I have no “phobia” of LBGT folks and, frankly, what people do in their bedrooms is between them, their partner(s) and, most importantly, God. One can dislike the LBGT lifestyle and still not have a “phobia” about it. I am not a fan of Lake Erie and don’t fish in it or boat on it, but I can’t deny it is there and I don’t  have “hydrophobia” in the sense that I won’t go near it or have an unhealthy fear of it. I can’t swim and, thus far, I’ve not been stupid enough to wade into it during a storm; I choose not to immerse myself in it, except to take a shower, but does that make me hydrophobic? According to Wikipedia, it would if the same broad “phobia” concept applied to transgender people were applied to water.

“Transphobia can include fear, aversion, hatred, violence, anger or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations,” explains the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Wow! What a huge, all-encompassing swath!

Likewise, that same source states that homophobia “encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT). It has been defined as a concept, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear and ignorance, and is often related to religious beliefs.”

That description covers a huge range of attitudes and infers that people who hold religious beliefs are driven by “irrational fear and ignorance.” A bit judgmental and, once again, assigns a given set of negative attributes to a person without even having a conversation with him or her. Yet, label makers hand out these titles like first-grade teachers pasting sad-face stickers next to the names of ornery students who don’t conform to the classroom di rigueur.

This culture, which uncomfortably feels more communistic than democratic, gives citizens little latitude for opinions that run counter to those embraced by the label makers. A slip of the tongue or poorly worded social media post, and you can end up being branded a “racist,” “sexist” or “misogynist.”

I’ve been accused of being the latter—hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women and girls (ever notice how rarely you see the word “misandry”—hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against men and boys?). This, despite being married and adoring my wife, who happens to be a woman.

My accuser was a porn shop/strip club owner responding to my objections to the proliferation of strip clubs and porn shops in the county. Ironically, it was my disdain of the way pornography treats women that motivated me to stand in front of that shop night after night and beg people not to patronize the place. It is still in business, and women continue to be degraded in this manner. Yet, the feminist movement, which evidently own the label maker that prints “misogyny,” “sexist” and SCUM labels, blithely ignores this injustice as a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, even to the point of killing her own baby.

If one steps back and takes a panoramic view of the cultural insanity, a trend become apparent: the culture police find a cause, usually rooted in a single event of discrimination or injury, and run with it to the media. Before the pandemic, the #MeToo movement embarrassed and disgraced many high-profile males with accusations and labels that led to job loss, reputation damage and shame. Certainly, males who make uninvited remarks or touch women in appropriately ought to be called out. However, no one seems to notice the hypocrisy of this lopsided movement. Why is it that when a man inappropriately touches a woman, he is breaking the law, but when a woman puts the moves on a man, he “gets lucky?” The answer, of course, is found in feminism’s extreme hatred for the male and disdain for normal sexual intimacy.

This focus on sexism and #MeToo has shifted, however, since the tragic deaths of several Black men, allegedly at the hands of law enforcement (the officers in the cases have not had their days in court, so I must use “alleged,” although cell phone and media trials have already found them guilty and ready to hang). The label makers have descended upon the scene and whipped up protests, looting, fires and even more deaths. The hunt is on for racists, dead or alive. We’ve not experienced this level of rooting out of societal evil since the McCarthyism era of the late 1940s, when a witch hunt (probably can’t use that term because it is sexist, but I will), led by US Senator Joseph McCarthy (who should be labeled “fruitcake”), tagged hundreds of otherwise productive and respectable Americans as communists or communist sympathizers. Careers were destroyed and the world deprived of the work and contributions of these Americans, many them falsely accused. Of course, we would not allow that to happen in our enlightened times.

However, the label-keepers in our universities, media and BLM movement are hard at work researching the lives of many well-known and honored Americans, dead and alive, in search of some writing or scrap of evidence that can be used to label them “racist” and thereby provide fresh targets for their educated hatred. The degree to which these excavations are going reminds me of the German Nazis’ efforts to track down any person with a drop of Jewish blood in their veins. Such efforts deeply trouble me, but the media and Democrats are drinking it up, providing great B roll as the monuments are toppled and centuries of history abolished.

US Civil War soldier monument in western New York town square
Monuments are erected to imperfect people who accomplished amazing things, but behind every monument’s story are the stories of many other people who made the honored one’s story possible. When we tear down a monument because that person’s life no longer measures up to modern standards, we destroy all the stories and sacrifices behind it. Cancel culture’s quick willingness to apply labels to people without really knowing their stories, is destroying our stories.

Skeletons galore are being pulled from the closets of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, necessitating reassessment of their contributions to our nation’s journey. Just this week, the Capitol of Ohio, Columbus, removed a statue to its namesake. The weak leaders’ willingness to bow to the voices of a few and slay the town’s eponym without taking a vote of the people is a metaphor for the loss of freedom in our nation on this Independence Day.

Ignorant of historical context and the incredible odds against these fallen heroes, the label makers insist upon dropping these great men and women into the court of our post-modern culture. Judged according to prevailing standards, the anachronisms have no chance of a fair trial. If time ran backward, how much chance would our monuments to feminists have surviving the world of the pioneers, explorers and antebellum times?

Hatred toward the living is understandable and predictable, but this culture’s disdain for historical figures is inexcusable. We do not have a right to posthumously excise one inappropriate thread from a deceased person’s life and spin it into a monochromatic burial shroud. Nor should we trample the revered fruit of their lives under our revisionist feet, ferment the resulting juice with hate and bottle it to intoxicate the next generation.

While politicians pull on the chains that bring down these statues and monuments, they forget that their ancestors were part of these stories, as well, from the people of color who labored on their plantations to the soldiers who lost limb and life under their command. I find this offensive and disrespectful to all who gave their lives so that, ironically, the label makers have the freedom to destroy their stories. George Washington’s story is my story because my great-great-great-great grandfather served under him in the Revolutionary War. And the Civil War is my story because several of my ancestors served in and were among the 828,000 Union casualties of the war that eventually brought freedom to the enslaved, a fact conveniently ignored as monuments to these men and women are being vandalized.

sidewalk art, "tell your story"
Cancel culture ought not steal our stories, replete with bad and good. To do so is to dehumanize us.

Curiously, there are calls and plans to replace these destroyed and defaced monuments to imperfect people of the past with more monuments to flawed humans. Perhaps our generation can save future generations similar offense and trouble by insisting that monuments be raised to only perfect people, whose morals and actions will stand the test of time and moral vicissitudes. That search ought to keep the academics busy for a long time.

Two hundred years ago, society labeled and condemned the blasphemer, adulterer, drunkard, prostitute, drug addict, infidel, sluggard or murderer. All of these have taken a back seat to the labels of racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynist, male, right-wing wing nut or simply being white and of European descent. Our postmodern label makers are quick to point out the blind spots of others and award their labels with impunity and a gross ignorance of history.  They fail to see that each incarnation of progressive culture is blind to something huge, some unforeseen consequence of its activism, that one day will sully their story, as much as they would disgrace mine. Six months ago, our nation was woefully blind to the possibility of a pandemic, but here it is, sucking the life from our spirits and economy. We had a huge preparedness blind spot, and our culture has equally huge moral blind spots.

Our postmodern label makers are quick to point out the blind spots of others and award their labels with impunity and a gross ignorance of history.  They fail to see that each incarnation of progressive culture is blind to something huge, some unforeseen consequence of its activism, that one day will sully their story, as much as they would disgrace mine.

I am reminded of a stanza in Bob Dylan’s prophetic song, “The Times They Are A Changing.”

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Let me suggest the label makers’ blind spot may be the transgression of using labels to justify their own moral failures and hatred toward all who do not subscribe to their agenda. For example, the same label police who are outraged by the death of Black men at the hands of law enforcement dismiss the 295,000 abortions by Black women in 2017 as “a woman’s reproductive right.” Why did those lives not matter?

No one in the movement dare raises that question, but a future generation may look at the hypocrisy and finally mourn for the aborted lives, as well. The blind spot reveals a commonality shared by the pro-choice/pro-abortion devotees and 17th century racists that exploited the Blacks. In both cases, they used language to dehumanize the objects of their scorn so they could own a more convenient, comfortable lifestyle. The unborn, according to the abortionist, is not human, just tissue, just as Blacks were declared something less than human, mere property to be sold on an auction block and treated as any other chattel. The atrocities that the abortion doctor performs against the unborn are no different than those that were applied to the backs of the enslaved. But we justify the injustice because we label them differently. This is not a racist issue, however. It is one of the human heart, the times we live in and the people we empower to create labels.

All this labeling creates a false sense of security and righteousness that grants license to hate the racist, homophobic, pro-lifer, misogynist and transphobic, all the while presenting an outward appearance of inclusiveness, love and equality for all, except the unborn, the evangelical Christian, heterosexual, traditional marriage partners and white male. The application of labels assuages our disdain for the inconvenient truths of our times, which, if otherwise exposed, would reveal gross hypocrisies.

It is every bit as dehumanizing to reduce a person’s life, being and experiences to a single label as it is to be a racist; both transgressions ignore the sacredness of human life in all its glories and failures. Why is this glaring hypocrisy being missed? Why are the label makers not being called out, like Jesus did in his Sermon on the Mount?

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

(Matthew 7:1-6, The Message paraphrase by Eugene W. Peterson).

History is unkind to label makers. I am unaware of any monuments to Joe McCarthy. There are, however, many statues of Jesus Christ and buildings that honor the one who revealed mankind’s collective and personal “lost” and “sinful” condition. He came to show us the way to true peace and unity, died so we might have it, and gave us the sweetest labels of all: “redeemed” and “children of the Father.”

The ephemeral labels and accolades assigned by culture are fickle; the glue that holds the stickers to our names eventually dries out and the label falls off. The monuments are torn down. Only God knows the heart, and only God has the right to judge people’s motives and lives in total. And only God gives the label that will matter in eternity.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God!” (I John 3:1, The Message).

apple blossom on cut section of apple tree log

Mourning a tree in blossom

Its five main limbs resembled the biceps of a circus weightlifter. They emerged from the low-set trunk just a few inches above the former orchard’s soil; twenty-inches in diameter at their widest, the limbs rose like a worshiper’s arms and terminated with scores of vertical, whip-like fingers on which grew the fruit. Pocked by the work of woodpeckers and bearing the scars of previous encounters with disease, chain saws, nails and dry rot, the limbs’ tight, gray bark encased golden sapwood that surrounded a dense core of decades-old, rust-hued heartwood.

It stood in my neighbor’s yard, but its branches overhung mine, as well. Every August, it dropped hundreds of small, orange and red orbs onto both yards to the delight of ants, bees, deer and this neighbor.

I am a lover of the Malus tree and its fruit; at a prior residence, in another phase of life, I aspired to be a backyard orchardist and had some 15 varieties growing, but rarely producing. There were no apple trees at the next house, but my relocation to Sherman Street Extension in 2015 brought me full circle to cultivating Malus domestica.

Man sitting in paneled room.
The late Clarence Helwig built The Feather Cottage from rocks he collected from the fields that became an apple orchard. He is sitting the knotty-pine paneled room that is now Carl’s office. Photo courtesy of his daughter, Rogene Helwig Lockwood.

Although once an apple orchard, the two acres on which The Feather Cottage stands were given over to red oak and brush when I arrived. The apple trees, I understand, grew on the acreage to the south of the farm. This entire area was once a huge apple-producing region, and at one time there was talk of designating the main road through this area as “The Apple Highway.”

The old orchard on Sherman Street Extension eventually gave way to subdivision and the ranch and bi-level homes of the 1960s and ‘70s.  Among the few artifacts of the old orchard is the cold storage room that Clarence Helwig built to the rear of our home’s stone garage. The six-inch-thick door with “COLD STORAGE” stenciled on the garage-facing side was a portal to the harvested bounty. Former residents tell me that Clarence ran a self-service apple sales operation in the room; customers left a dollar for each bag of apples they withdrew from the shelves.

Some of those apples came from the artifact in my neighbor’s yard, the magnificent Malus with 20-inch biceps. It was the last surviving apple tree in my neighborhood, and although decades old, it still bore a heavy crop without fail.

Its yellow-and-red fruit, although blemished with scabs, worms and rot, delivered more flavor to the bite than an entire bin of perfect Northwest Red Delicious shipped 2,000 miles to the supermarket. I looked forward to early August, when the heritage tree released its fruit and I could once again nibble on childhood’s apples while going about my yardwork. Bites were strategically selected to avoid the scabs, bruises and wormholes; the resulting wound inspected before the bite was swallowed. The sight of severed worm dangling from a brown burrow in the white skin necessitated expectoration and moving on to a less-infected specimen–all part of the adventure of traveling yesterday’s gastronomical highway.

The tree was an old variety. I am guessing Gravenstein, popular in cold-temperate regions such as ours. Producing tangy, sweet, flavorful fruit, the heirloom’s North American heritage has been traced to the West Coast, where it was a favorite with commercial growers in the Sonora Region of Calafornia. Wine grapes eventually replaced Malus there, much as grapes, and houses, have replaced apples in this region.

But my neighbor’s tree was the rare survivor. Either through fate or indifference, the tree remained, continued to grow and dutifully produced and dropped its crops as offering for years after its peers were dragged off to make way for Little Boxes of all different colors.

Desiring to pay homage to my property’s heritage, the first fall I lived here I planted 10 apple trees on a sunny, low section. One does not know land until a year of rain, snow and sun have had their way with it, and in the spring, the parcel’s former life as a pond revealed itself following the cloudburst. Apples, as a rule, do not like wet feet, and in time that disdain turned to death. Many of the trees had to be replanted, on higher ground. Last summer, we enjoyed our first four apples from the orchard of mostly disease-resistant varieties.

On several occasions, I thought of taking a few scions from the heritage tree and attempt a graft onto the semi-dwarf rootstock. I even inquired of a couple local orchardists about having them attempt it, but I learned that commercial operations rely upon the nurseries to prepare grafted stock. With all the drama, work and vicissitudes of those years, the project remained a thought, nothing more.

A week ago, I heard my neighbor’s chainsaw growling in his backyard; time had run out for my grafting plans and the tree alike. The stout limbs fell that morning and throughout the afternoon as he labored against their heritage and girth. He eventually became frustrated with the struggle, knocked on our door and asked if I was interested in completing the job for the firewood.

It could not save the tree, but I could determine the wood’s fate. For the next two days, between installing a new kitchen sink and all the joys of plumbing that go with that, I worked on what amounted to “butchering” the artifact. The work was heavy, in both the physical and emotional senses, and overall bittersweet. The aromatic sap, bleeding from scores of fresh wounds, tinged the early-May air as I went about my work. Infant red blossoms, still tightly wrapped, spilled from the shaking, crashing branches. Another week or so, and the tree would have been a bouquet of hope and harbinger of harvest, but the harvest this year would be of Mallus wood, not fruit.

Wanting to preserve the straight sections of the large limbs, I chose not to reduce them to standard fireplace lengths, rather retain them as logs in the event a sawyer could make planks for some rustic project. Other pieces were cut with an eye to making doorstops or other useful items that will remain with the cottage as mementoes of this heritage. I stacked them on pallets on which to dry, next to the smaller sections of branches awaiting the splitter and, ultimately, cremation in the hearth. The wood is dense, patterned and colorful. I study it with an eye to more practical and long-lasting applications: décor, furniture or treenware. A woodturner has already accepted my offer to take some of the wood for bowls, one of which will stay with The Feather Cottage.

stack of apple firewood
Applewood is highly desired as a firewood because of its sweet aroma and excellent heat output. But this wood is too special to burn; it must live on in lumber, bowls and other items that will recall the heritage of this place.

My heart is not into burning the old tree, no matter how sweet its smoke on a December night or reliable a comfort its coals as slumber approaches. I am not one to burn history; I have spent much of my life attempting to record and preserve it, and a tree so magnificent, its branches so bowed with stories, ought not be reduced to common fireplace ashes and carbon emissions. I detest the endowed task of deciding when natural objects must give way to human fancies; I would rather God make such decisions. But my free will extends to planting, and I wait for the mail truck to deliver young Gravenstein, Cortland, Williams Pride and winesap trees. I will plant them on the high ground near the stump where withered apple blossoms mingle with spring violets and apple sawdust.

I will not live to see any of these youthful trees to mature to the fallen tree’s proportions or distinction. God be willing and merciful, I will live long enough to see their youthful branches become bouquets in the spring and flex with fruit in September. Should my years be cut short like the old tree, I pray that the next person who holds title to this land has the pleasure of eating their fruit, of watching branches become limbs, and explaining to the curious why the previous owner choose to plant Mallus rather than a swimming pool.

frugality, using a pencil to its very end

The lost skill of frugality

Frugality. There’s a word you rarely hear on YouTube or see on electronic screens these days.

With the alleged booming economy, I suppose most Americans don’t have much need for frugality in 2020. But it hasn’t been that many years ago when being frugal was a way of life, and I’m not talking about The Great Depression.

Back in the 1980s, when unemployment in my home county was around 20 percent and we depended on my wife’s $2-an-hour job to purchase the groceries for our family of three, frugality was a way of life. There was a year or so when I was counted among the 20 percent, and we had to figure out how to live on less than $200 a week. When the unemployment benefits ran out, we had to scrape by on even less. Getting a job that paid $6.50 an hour and required use of my personal vehicle, compensated at a rate of 9 or 10 cents a mile, didn’t do much to relieve our dependence on frugality. But at least food stamps were not putting the meals on our table.

We became so adept at frugal living I wrote a newspaper column as “Frugal Feather.” One strategy of frugality was to use manufacturer’s coupons inserted in the Sunday paper. I kept my eyes out for those inserts that made their way into the newsroom trash and thought I’d hit the mother lode of savings when I found a stack of them discarded. I recall one time getting something like 10 bags of noodles free using the BOGO coupons. But that was back before Aldi, which is where the frugal shop. Even with coupons, national brands cost more, and these days the frugal use of manufacturer’s coupons is for lighting the wood stove.

Back in the days of frugal living, we recycled most everything, and by recycling, I mean we used it more than once. Aluminum foil used to cover a dish in the oven got reused for wrapping up leftovers and storing in the fridge. Plastic food storage bags were rinsed and reused. We had more empty butter and sour cream bowls than we could ever possibly use for leftovers, but they found secondary purposes as dog water bowls, seedling pots, sandbox toys, parts containers and paint-brush holders.

We purchased only used vehicles and, to minimize fuel usage and wear and tear on the cars, we carefully planned trips and combined errands into one journey. We saved our money rather than make car payments and went into debt for a vehicle only when necessary and interest rates were low. Double, triple payments were made to eliminate debt and reduce interest expense. My father took care of all repairs.

Our old dog went to the vet only when she was ill and got her vaccinations from a dog breeder friend. I went years without going to a doctor because of high insurance deductibles. Fortunately, I didn’t have any chronic issues that required prescriptions. A medical emergency stressed the budget for months because our health “insurance” had high deductibles, but we always paid our debts.

My wife made her own clothes and kept mine in good condition. My clothes, for the most part, came from the “men’s shop” at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. My wife cut my hair, baked most of the bread we ate and canned hundreds of jars of tomatoes and sauces. “Going out to eat” involved buying a cheap pizza and taking it to a lakefront park. We called these mini-vacations “pizza picnics” and set a place at the table for Clifford, our golden mix, who enjoyed the outings as much as we did.

Our annual vacation in September or October was always a working one for me, built around a list of four to six stories that I would do for Goldenseal Magazine while staying in West Virginia for six days. The money from the stories paid for the travel. I lived for those simple but fulfilling journeys.

Frugality gave us some latitude with our passions–cameras, slide film and multi-image gear for me, sewing machines for her. The equipment was almost always used and rarely of “professional” caliber. Our pastimes had to pay for themselves, and by the time we had made enough to buy what we needed, we were too tired to enjoy it for ourselves.

We saved our all our paper bags from the grocery store. The small bags could be re-used for packing lunches and the large ones were terrific for holding the folded bags and lining the kitchen trash can, unless coffee grounds were tossed in with the “dry” waste. I miss getting groceries and other purchases in those bags.

My frugality stopped short of recycling the envelopes in which junk mail arrived, although I’ve received more than one letter in one of these repurposed envelopes with the credit card company’s return address scratched out and a piece of paper taped over the cellophane window. And I learned that frugality is no excuse for being “penny wise and pound foolish,” as with buying bargain house paint that required three coats versus a quality product that covered with one coat.

Being “retired,” I find myself once again migrating to a life of frugality. Being thrust into early retirement was one factor; I am discovering why older folks always complain about being on a “fixed income.” It is especially difficult when you spend your life planning for things being a certain way and then a box full of monkey wrenches is tossed into those plans just a few years shy of reaching the goal. Accordingly, I’m grateful I mastered money-management tools like saving, frugality and contentment way back when. I’ve learned to appreciate the capabilities of existing technology possessions rather than focus on the latest offerings and, since I rarely leave the house, familiar clothes do just fine and the old car with 100,000 miles on it still gets me where I need to go, which is not very far. There’s a garden in the side yard and we heat with wood, supplemented with space heaters buring natural gas, the bill for which I just received and gave me sticker shock. Time to get out the sweaters.

But the real budget killers are taxes: federal, state, city and school income taxes; real estate property taxes; sales taxes. It is impossible to be frugal with these items. You owe them and they take precedence over all other expenses. It is no exaggeration when I say that we are facing a 12-percent increase in taxes this year thanks to a new school district income tax and the generous voters in our county approving a bevy of property taxes for services and amenities we don’t use.

It takes a lot of frugality to make up for those increases, but since government and schools have not mastered the skill of frugality, it is up to the taxpayers to implement the frugal lifestyle. After doing all the taxes, my wife and I concluded that we can’t afford either The Feather Cottage or living in northeast Ohio much longer, but neither of us has an idea where we want to go. Ohio has some of the highest property taxes in the nation and is not particularly friendly to retirees. And the nation’s $20 trillion debt suggests to me that this un-frugal federal government is not going to be very tax friendly, regardless of your residence. I don’t see a single presidential candidate talking about reducing taxes for regular folks, and the Democratic Candy Men and Women are promising gifts that are sure to increase the tax bill until the republic collapses under the burden.

I predict, regardless of who is in the White House, that frugality will return out of necessity, although to the detriment of the Dow and amazon.com. Consumers may eventually be forced to “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” as “Silent Cal” Calvin Coolidge suggested when things got tight (wouldn’t it be great if we once again had a president who could earn the “silent” nickname and suggest frugality?). It would be a tough order for consumers today, for our economy is fueled by excess, wastefulness and indebtedness for things we really don’t need. We are still driving automobiles to the poor farm, and many of those “in poverty” carry their iPhone 11s in designer bags and wear team-logo jackets while waiting in line at the Social Security office (yes, I’ve been there and seen it).

A return to frugality would be good for the soul, planet and our bank accounts (do people still have savings accounts, or just lines of credit and credit cards?). And it need not mean that we reduce our standard of living, which has become woefully interconnected with excess. Both the stock market and our lives would benefit from a good purging. However, just like the task of cleaning out the garage, no one knows where to start and it is easier to close the garage door and go shopping.

Looking back on those days of 1980s frugality, I realize that we both survived and lived well. We had no shortage of problems, but also no shortage of laughter. Much of the distress we felt was driven not by our actual circumstances, but by the advertising that suggested we were unhappy because we lacked something. There was, in fact, much to keep us occupied and happy, had we only taken the time to avail ourselves of it. But we often were too busy getting the next thing that was sure to make us happy, really happy.

And that brings us today. Are we happy yet?

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not,” suggested Marcus Aurelius. “Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Breaking the web

He always carried a pocket knife, just as his father and grandfather had done.

His was a small one, two blades, both of which were kept sharp and ready for whatever chore befell them.

They whittled sticks onto which hot dogs and marshmallows were pushed, they scraped corrosion from battery posts, cut the tags off the new plaid, flannel shirt and extricated splinters and briers from his tough skin.

They also taught lessons about life.

One evening, when his teenage grandson was visiting from out of state, he told him they would rise early and take a walk in the meadow and forest; he had something important to show him. He’d fix them a breakfast of oatmeal and Cortland apples, then put on their dew gear and take a walk.

The taste of cinnamon and brown sugar lingering in their mouths, they left for the meadow; the man’s aged black Lab led the way down the brown path.

Neither the boy nor his grandfather said much at first. They commented on the chill, the heavy dew and how it seemed as if the dog had slowed down quite a bit from the boy’s last visit, in the spring. Seeing a gall on weed, the grandfather stopped, pulled out the knife, cut open the gall and revealed its contents. It smelled like pepper, the boy observed, and they tossed it aside and continued to walk toward the forest.

Twilight gave way to dawn. The first rays of morning crawled across the meadow. He stopped next to a tall weed onto which a web hung in the motionless air, and invited his grandson to study the complex structure. The sun was at their back, and the web, shaded from the light, appeared dull and lifeless. Then he told his grandson to walk around to the other side. A ray of amber sunlight hit the web perfectly, revealing hundreds of aquatic jewels dancing on the slight breeze.

“Perspective and light,” he said. “Remember that. If your life becomes dull and seems meaningless, try looking at it from another angle. Change your perspective. And most importantly, let the light strike it. See it in the light of God’s love.”

He pulled out his pocket knife and opened it to the small blade. Handing it to his grandson, he invited him to see how many of the connections he could break before the web collapsed.

The boy began his work of slicing through filaments. The web shuddered with the slightest touch and set loose dewy tears that crashed onto filaments below. Each additional slice of the sharp blade was more devastating than the previous to the greater web, which eventually collapsed into a mass of tears.

“I want you to imagine that this web represents our society,” he said. “That every filament that runs between the connecting points represents a relationship between two humans. Indeed, imagine that each one represents marriage, like the vows that unites your mother and father.

“When the filaments are connected, the web is strong. It can hold the burdens of life, the tears that accumulate on the web because we live in a fallen world. But did you notice that when you sliced through those filaments and destroyed the web’s foundation, those tears were released upon other strands? Eventually, when you cut through enough of the strands, the whole web collapsed.

“It’s that way in our relationships, son. When we fail to stay to connected to one another, when we fail to bear each other’s tears, we weaken the entire web. The burden of life’s sorrows and trials are just too great for society to sustain without those strong bonds and committed love.  When we go to a court of law and demand the knife of divorce be applied to a marriage, the web shudders. The emotional universe that connects us to each other and, ultimately, to God, trembles at these actions. Society is built on the concept of trust, of strong bonds that result from keeping vows—even when the weight of tears pulls the strands toward breaking

“Nothing, nobody, not even God, can reconnect strands thus severed. The once beautiful web that held both tears and jewels—it all depends on your perspective—requires commitment, emotional connection and maturity in order to stay strong. Hatred and divorce are the blades in the pocket knife.”

He wiped away the tears from his eyes, took the knife from his grandson, wiped the dew from the metal, closed it and slide it back in his pocket. The Lab nudged the man’s hand; it was time to go back to the lonely house that he bought following the divorce.

 

A garden far removed

The garden is so tired, yet the summer is not done with us, and so it attempts growth.

A green pumpkin hangs tenuously onto the fence, a withered vine feigns support. I have no idea what it keeps it alive.

A tomato plant blooms, as does a pumpkin vine far from its original planting. Bees buzz, searching for autumn pollen.

They do not know that the harvest has past. Their efforts are ceremonial, I suspect.

The yellow cherry tomatoes that, during August and September, burst before they were ripe, hang whole and deliciously on scrawny vines that droop over the wire fence. Blossoms of the garden flower mixture, 60 cents at Buck’s Hardware, press against the wires, faces gaunt and hopeful, like prisoners of war awaiting liberators. Perhaps the kitchen scissors will give them their freedom, if I can find something to hold their stems.

The fence goes back to April, a wall to protect the plot from the raccoons, ground hogs and rabbits that ravaged gardens of prior years. The old gate fell apart several weeks ago and I’ve not been of a mind to fix it. The garden is like the final act of the play, when the ticket taker retires to the back room for his Four Roses, and the passersby are free to wander in and take their pick of the entertainment, to catch the closing scene.

As far as I can tell, not one critter has bothered, save the brown snake I disturbed one day and sent him on his way. All 12 inches of him turned on me, opened wide his venom-less mouth and went on his way, and I on mine. I’ve not seen him since, yet I watch for him. I have learned to always watch for the snakes.

More threatening are the acorns. The mast is heavy this year and blankets the ground like a marble-factory truck overturned on the Interstate. The nuts are massive; they smart when they fall on my noggin and sound like gunshots when they hit the metal roofs of the garage and house. They ping and rattle down the incline six feet above my office ceiling and clog the gutters. Families of wild turkey wander in from the forest  and feast on the bounty in the driveway, where my Scion’s tires accomplished released the meat. There are white-tailed deer, as well, and I suspect they claimed one of the four golden delicious apples the adolescent tree bore this year.

This morning the breeze is warm and leaves green, I could mistake it for summer, but it is October, and a third of a way through it, at that. Uneasiness is in the air, and the heavy mast and white tips of my fingers, afflicted with Raynauld’s Syndrome, tell me a cold winter is coming.

There will be logs to cut, split and stack, leaves to rake and yard items to put away. That’s the outside work; inside myriad projects beg completion—two books to write, edit, design and publish, video projects and freelance work.

I feel like that old garden. I am hanging on to the past life of the workaday world, but my hands, the carpet of acorns and fence of dying vines tell me that world is past. I was retired in a flash, but the spots of that flash still cloud my vision and perspective. A bit of summer fans the hope that someday I will return to full-time work, but I know those hopes hang by withered vines; come the first frost, the gourd will drop to  white-crusted earth with a thud that will wake nothing, not even the snakes.

Those snakes haunt me, imprison me in my lair. They bit me so viciously in the past, I cannot help but distrust them and fear their presence. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” King David lamented. Like David, I lament, too:

This isn’t the neighborhood bully
    mocking me—I could take that.
This isn’t a foreign devil spitting
    invective—I could tune that out.
It’s you! We grew up together!
    You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
    arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.

(Psalm 55:12-14, The Message Bible)

If plants have feelings, I wonder if they will sense betrayal when I rip them from the October soil, drop their bones into the yellow wheelbarrow and add them to the compost pile? Their fruit harvested, their work done, their bodies wracked with the pain of October, devalued, discarded … “We grew up together! You! My best friend!” Will that be their lament, as it was mine?

Or perhaps, like the snakes that I fear so much, the plants don’t feel regret, pain or shame. They just slither about their kingdoms, hissing and going to and fro, seeking who they will deceive next.

If so, I elect to feel their pain. I will feel the pain of October and beyond, to the grave.

unde malum

This much I have learned, pain exists that we might understand the heart of the gardener.

We handle it better as we age, and a good thing, too, for there is much sadness and pain in this garden far removed from Eden.

I don’t want to be a rock star

The following line is from a job description:

This is a fantastic opportunity for a rock star creative who wants to help …

We don’t need another rock star. And I sure don’t want to be one.

Frankly, I’m sick of rock stars and divas, stand-up comedians and YouTube daredevils.

I’d like to just go to work, get the job done and come home and read. And listen to music. But not rock.

This rock-star mentality has gone too far. I recall some 15 years ago, when I was attempting to make it as a professional photographer, being told by a very successful one (he got $1,000 and up just for the sitting fee on a family portrait), that you had to think and act like a rock star if you wanted to succeed with that clientele ($250,000 and up annual income).

I don’t know what happened to him and his business during the Great Recession, but I know what happened to me and my freelance portrait and wedding business. It hit the rocks. I don’t think being a rock star would have changed any of that, however. A lot of rock stars were on Wall Street back then, and we saw what happened. The rock star politicians bailed them out, and they are back at it.

Ten years later we have a president who thinks he’s a rock star. Or a TV game show host. If he had an electric guitar, he’d be all set. He doesn’t need it. He plays the voters.

We have a lot of politicians who think that because the majority of voters narrowly chose them over the other candidate, they were suddenly elevated to queen, rock star and diva. Divine appointment. A mandate from the people.

What’s missing?

Rock stars don’t serve. They entertain. They are all talk and noise. They glitter and glam while they are on stage, but back in the dressing room, the miserable person behind the mask craves that next round of applause, that next mention on Facebook, that cover, review or Tweet.

All of this may be fun and games for those who live in the world of social  media and post 30 selfies per hour. But when that person has his fingers on the nation’s self-destruct buttons, it’s not a game. And that holds true for every political office below the Oval one. Perhaps it is because my father is veteran, a distant grandfather crossed the Delaware with Washington and an uncle went through the hell of Korea, but I find it disgusting when elected officials take a rock-star approach to the office. It’s not about them. It’s not about making appearances, handing out kudos and keeping up pretenses.

Blood was spilt, misery endured and limbs lost so that we can have these elections, offices and, hopefully, committed, sincere and transparent individuals to fill them. When an elected official treats the office with the contempt that comes with a diva or rock-star mentality, he or she spits on the flag and the veterans who defended it.

It’s the same way with jobs. Are employers really looking for rock stars these days? Do they really want the grief of dealing with a narcissist on the job, day in and day out? Being a rock star or diva is a competition in deception. What business wants to hire a liar? Evidently, quite a few. I’m seeing that “rock star” mentality requirement in many of the job openings that come through Indeed.

But I don’t want to be a rock star.

 

 

Life’s wrinkles get ironed out with prayer, steam

I still use the same ironing board I used from my childhood home.

Growing up in a house with 5 brothers I learned to iron shirts at an early age. I was very young when my mother showed me how to use an iron. I remember that I had to stand on a chair to see what I was doing. I was not quite tall enough at the time. During my first lesson my mother taught me how to iron my father’s handkerchiefs. He had the big red patterned ones for work and smaller white ones that I think he used on days when he didn’t work. I am not sure why a man would need a wardrobe of handkerchiefs.  But I do remember that it took me all day to press about a week’s worth of them. We called them hankies back then. I don’t think they are used very much today. In today’s disposable society, I guess tissues are standard.

Thinking back, I may have pressed each one more than once. I thought it was fun. But I mastered that assignment and I was ready for more. Remember, I was young; I didn’t realize what was in store for me. Back then everything was made of cotton and dried on the clothesline. This made for plenty of ironing.

The next day I moved on to learn how to iron a man’s shirt. I was so proud to show her how well I had done. Little did I know that as of that day it would be my responsibility.  I remember feeling special because she never showed my brothers how to do this. In my young mind I considered it a privilege to iron clothes.  I felt I was helping my mother and that was a good feeling for a little girl who so wanted to please. That lesson has stuck with me for several decades. I still iron shirts the same way today. The only difference is modern fabrics. They do not need as much attention as they used to require.

Thankfully I do not need to stand on the chair anymore.

Of all the things that need to be done around the house, I do not consider ironing a chore. I find it very relaxing. Perhaps it helps this recovering perfectionist make wrinkled things crisp and neat. I really don’t know but, on some level, it brings me pleasure. Monday evening, I found myself, once again, ironing clothes. I thought about how I really enjoy the time I spend ironing Carl’s shirts. I know that it sounds crazy, but I do enjoy that time spent with the Rowenta and the antique ironing board that once belonged to my mother.

Several weeks ago, I was planning my day and setting aside the time I needed to get the ironing done. I started thinking about all the downloaded sermons and Podcasts I seem to collect and never find time to listen to them.  I had a plan for the afternoon and decided to start catching up on my audio treasures. Soon after getting started, I found that my mind was wandering from listening and I found myself thinking about the person that would be wearing the clothes I was ironing. I thought about my husband and how nice he looks each day when he goes off to work. I started picturing Carl in each shirt and I started thinking about how I always want him to look his best. I realized how important it is to me that everyone he meets knows that there is someone at home who loves and cares for him.

This was the moment that I began to pray while ironing his shirts. Sometimes, during this time, I get so involved and deep in thought that I get startled if an animal or person walks in the room. Of course, to the person walking in the room it must seem strange that I would be surprised. It looks like I am just ironing. Why on earth would I jump?  I just seem to get into the process and become oblivious to everything else around me. Just me talking to God and ironing shirts.

I pray for the day he chooses to wear each shirt that I am ironing. Asking God to watch over him and to give him wisdom and to protect him from all harm. I pray that he will have a good day and that maybe God will use him in some way that day. I know it sounds strange, but it has become an important time for me.  I understand that the shirts themselves have no power. But I believe that God does hear and answers our prayers. In fact, He wants us to ask. Even though He knows the desires of our hearts, He wants to us to ask in faith and believe. So, each time I heat up my trusty Rowenta and start ironing Carl’s shirts, God is going to be hearing from me.

 

This is how things end …

They say the stuff of which you are afraid rarely happens. Like being tossed into a pit full of snakes, developing an inoperable tumor that will bring a painful death, or being an empath locked in a room full of narcissists.

I always worried that I’d get to be this age and lose my job and health insurance.

And it happened. Out of the blue. One minute, I am working on a project for the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners. The next minute, the boss and HR administrator are in your office with a stack of papers for you to sign and boxes for all your personal items.

Fifteen minutes later, you are heading down the road wondering how you are going to tell your spouse that your employer can’t afford to pay you and has no work for you to do. She married a reject, a loser.

The biggest fear, of course, is health insurance. It is insanely expensive, especially at this age. It’s become one more way that big business takes advantage of the downtrodden. The flurry of phone calls at all hours of the day and night regarding my online inquiry is like the harrassment a man receives after winning the lottery. Except I didn’t win this lottery. I held the pink, losing ticket.

The first matter of business was finding a way to protect our assets by having some manner of health insurance in place. Being a Christian, I was able to buy into the cost-sharing ministry of Christian Health Care Ministries. That and faith will be my “insurance” for $150 a month. It’s not insurance, but at least I won’t have to pay a penalty for not being in the system.

Searching for a job is a depressing job at any age, but when all the decision makers are in their 20s and 30s, and you are 63, it is a futile exercise. They are conditioned to believe that the only persons capable of doing and thinking are those of their own camp, who hold master’s degrees and have no value or knowledge that was not gained at great financial cost to their parents and themselves.

Yes, my  hair is gray. No, I don’t have the bachelor’s or master’s that the $9-an-hour, part-time job demands. But what of the 40 years of experience? The projects completed? The race almost run?

Some application processes immediately reject your online application if you don’t have the requisite degree. A person I once knew and who encouraged me to apply for jobs in a university told me to just go ahead an lie about the degree and then explain in the interview. That’s wrong and it tells the employer that you are a liar.

Then again, in our culture of looking out for Number One, of getting ahead at all costs, of doing what is right based upon the situation, lying is commonplace, even expected. Indeed, it might tell the employer, most likely a 30-some with a master’s and $150,000 in school loans, that you are resourceful.

Authentically phony. That seems to be gold standard for success.

We elect presidents and congressmen and other elected officials upon information that has very little truthfulness. We purchase products based upon reviews that are slanted by the reviewer having received free goods in exchange for the favorable review, and we sign up for services marketed with flashing lights, swooshes, motion graphics, starbursts and explosions. Life and selling the goods of living have become a video game.

Those who market the stuff of which this life is made specialize in superlatives, frosted air bubbles, perfect arrogance and pick-pocket, carnival barker tactics. I am as fearful of delving into that culture as I am of being unemployed at 63. Even as I write this, I feel a twinge of embarrassment and hypocrisy; why should I, as a writer, ask of you the most precious things you possess at this moment, your time and at least partial attention?

You may be on the clock and reading this, in which case I am stealing not only your time but your employer’s money. Or you may be reading this rather than spending time with your spouse or children. Stop reading if these are the cases. Focus on what is important.

I think that is the message that Ruth and I speak here, finding and focusing on what really matters. As INFJs, we struggle with defining that. It is always just on the tip of our tongues, but we can’t speak it. It will be an epiphany of purpose when that day comes.

We’re frustrated by the fact that there is so much clatter and noise out there, so many social media channels filled with time-wasters and attention grabbers that being quietly authentic is as scary as losing a job at the age 63.

My lovingly, beautifully ironed shirts and handsome ties have hung in the closet unworn now for six weeks; I am a T-shirt and jeans writer these days whose greatest ambition is to find a check in the mailbox or email offering a job interview. I live in the aftermath of a fear realized and navigate my way around the snakes in this pit and narcissists in the room, praying that the inoperable tumor will not be the last act in this drama.

All our working years we dream about that day we will retire, the party and the “gold watch” that will tick off the carefree hours of our retirement. An economy of instant gratification and short-term profits, buoyed by mass marketing and lies, has pretty much wiped out that dream for most middle- and lower-income Americans. We were always expendable, disposable commodities, and as we age, we are all the more so. One can always find a reason to discard that old thing and replace it with the new one that just arrived in an email pitch.

Not much else to say on this matter, it hangs like the scent of dung in the humid air of a summer day in dairy country. You eventually get used to the stench, the idea of being “prematurely retired” rather than unemployed, of realizing that not all journeys end with a party and that most of our fears are realized eventually, otherwise we have wasted our lives fearing and not really living.

What? Beans in your ears?

My Mommy told me “Don’t put beans in your ears, beans in your ears.”

Remember that song?

It comes to mind every time I slip my hearing-aid domes into an ear canal. It feels unnatural. You’re not supposed to put cotton swabs, pencils or beans in your ears. You might break your ear drum. It might get stuck in your ear and they’ll have to take you to the hospital and use a giant vacuum to suck it out. And your brains could be sucked out in the process.

And if you put a bean in your ear, it will get stuck in there, take root and you’ll have green beans growing from your ears by late summer.

Don’t put beans in your ears …

So here I am, sitting with two electronic beans in my ears. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

I don’t like the tinny sound. I don’t like the feeling of fullness.

I don’t like the sounds I’ve been missing,
the dog licking,
shower dripping
keyboard clicking.

It’s all too loud.

For years I’ve tried to ignore my failing hearing. I first became aware of it when my spouse would tell me a smoke alarm was going off in the basement or the reel on my 16mm projector was making a squeaking sound. I didn’t hear it, so it didn’t exist.

Next came errors in reporting, especially at meetings ,where I would have to quote speakers in rooms with horrible acoustics. Sheepishly, I’d have to ask them to repeat themselves after the meeting, if I could track them down in time.

I noticed that the sound from the telephone receiver was much louder in my right ear than the left. In fact, when people spoke into my left ear, I just didn’t hear it. I even had a psychic tell me I had a bad left ear, and that was 20 some years ago.

It all goes back to 1976 or so, when I was bill collector for Sun Finance. Remember finance companies? Yes, I worked for one. And one evening as I was doing collections, I acquired a new disability. I was knocking on the door of a delinquent debtor, who happened to live in a block house down on the lakefront in Conneaut. The house had an enclosed block porch, and I was standing in that area when two misfits tossed a pack of firecrackers into the enclosed area.

The blast floored me. When I came too, I had incredible ringing in my ears, and no hearing.

I went home and figured it would go away in a couple of days. Slowly, the hearing did return, but never the ringing. Tinnitus, they call it. And the hearing, although recovered, was never the same.

Ruth, God bless that sweet lady’s heart, played along with my hearing loss when we were dating. She patiently repeated things and showed great empathy, even though she has great hearing. But I could not deny that something was seriously wrong, and that I was going to get myself in trouble by playing along like I knew what people were saying to me. Only in one-on-one conversations, with no background noise, could I understand the words. I just nodded and smiled, and I often wondered how many times I did that when the other person was trying to tell me that something gross was hanging on my face or that their mother had just passed away after a lingering illness of 42 years.

Years ago I saw an ENT doctor about the problem, and he suggested some super-expensive hearing aids to try to block the constant ringing and regain some of the high-frequency loss. The cost was around $12K. In case you are unfamiliar with how all this works, hearing aids are not covered by health insurance. They are smarter than that. So it was always out of the question.

Last month I decided to have my hearing checked again. The audiologist charted on a graph the frequencies that I could hear. It looked like the graph of the coming stock market crash when Donald Trump is replaced by a Democrat or Libertarian. The audiologist just shook her head and said “You ain’t hearing much, buddy.”

I can’t hear frequencies above 1 kHz. The left ear is especially bad. It might as well be dead. The audiologist told me that I’ve compensated all these years by using the right ear, but it’s on life support. But at least it can be helped with a hearing aid.

Armed with the results of my hearing test, I went shopping online for the dreaded hearing aids. I selected a pair from Audicus. Cost more than a full-frame Nikon DSLR.

I’ve had them for about three weeks now. The company is good to work with, but did I mention I don’t like the hearing aids?

Granted, I can now hear what the preacher says during the sermon, and I’m starting to realize that a lot of the stuff that I thought he said was OK, isn’t. Well, I may exaggerating on that.

And I’ve discovered that my little car is extremely noisy (suggestion: if you suffer from hearing loss, you can save money by purchasing a noisy, subcompact car). I recently wore my hearing aids while driving and was amazed at all the rattles and rumbles in that car. And I noticed for the first time since I purchased the car I could hear the turning signal clicking. I just figured it was some modern thing, that the turning signals no longer clicked. Then I realized why Ruth was always poking me to turn off the signal.

When her told her that I discovered my car was noisy, she said “I knew that.”

“You mean when we went on our first date? Was it noisy then?

“Yes.”

“And you continued to date me?”

“Yes.”

Now that’s love!

And that is why I will eventually get used to wearing these darn things, these beans in my ears. I want to hear to her voice, and I want to hear all of life, cacophony and music alike. I don’t want to end up like my mother, although I probably will, who had to be screamed at because she refused to wear her hearing aids, and who had to constantly turn to my father and ask for an interpretation of what I just said.

Hearing aids are expensive, they don’t sound anything like “natural hearing” and they are a pain to wear. They eat batteries like Christmas morning. You always worry about that silly retaining strand sticking out of your ear like an old man’s hair that hasn’t seen a razor since adolescence.

And it feels like there are beans in my ears.

 

 

Never had so many calls

Are you lonely?

Does your cell phone never ring?

Do you have an afternoon to waste?

Go to a website where you inquire about health insurance plans for individuals.

Such was my Monday afternoon as I launched my search in the land of Obamacare.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Sandra.

Sorry about that.

On Friday I got my letter advising me that funds are no longer available to pay for my position with Ashtabula County. Health insurance ends at the end of April.

Being 63 and without insurance is about as scary as having Donald Trump for President or being an empath at a covert narcissists’ convention.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Devin.

Sorry about that.

So I plugged in the personal information, including my cellphone number, in two websites. And I am telling you that within five seconds of hitting send, the first call came in.

A nice young lady by the name of Nicole took all my information and offered a policy with no deductible at only $275.89 a month. What is this, Chinese health insurance?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

It sounded too good to be true. I mean the COBRA premium was something like five times that, and it has deductibles.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was another one of those calls.

Nope. No deductibles. Funny thing, when I asked for something in writing, via email, they aren’t able to do that. Humm.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. You guessed it.

Based upon the person’s unwillingness to put it writing, I wrote it off.

Besides, at that point, I had five more calls waiting.

The next one wants one to know, right off the bat, how much I can afford every month for health insurance.

“Well, let’s see. I just got laid off. I’ll probably not be able to get unemployment because I have a business. Um. How about nothing?”

The next guy asks me the same question. But he wants to know how much I could wire him today to get the ball rolling. Brother, I think it’s dice, not a ball, that’s rolling.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was Samantha. Wow what is smoking? Nobody should be so upbeat on a Monday afternoon in gray, dreary, windy, rainy northeast Ohio. Then I check the area code. She’s in California. Figures.

The phone stopped ringing. I continued my search online, preferring to put my money into a medical sharing account with a Christian organization. I found a portal for these plans and received great service from an agent whose quote was much more in line with what I anticipated. And so I asked her, why a sharing plan with $10,000 deductible is still twice as high as the premium for a plan that has no deductible.

I won’t share the answer, although it is rather obvious. I smell a rat whenever there are so many sales people jumping onto an inquiry from

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

one old man trying to

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

get some health insurance

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

just in case.

A the Linesville Spillway in Pennsylvania, hundreds of fat carp compete with each other for one slice of bread tossed into the water. I think it’s that way when some sap like myself fills out one of those online forms seeking a health insurance quote. The enthusiastic, persistent calls suggest to me there is both a lot of money to be made in this business and the consumer is being taken for a sucker (like the lips on that light fish). Who regulates these guys? And what ever happened to the affordable in the Affordable Care Act? When your income equals zero, nothing is affordable.

I’m exhausted from swiping the phone and listening to these hot shots promise me the world.

But you  know what’s really scary?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

If I am unemployed for very long, or folks don’t buy our books, I may have to work in a call center, selling my soul for

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

health insurance.

What a sorry state of affairs. But at least I’m not lonely. I have along list of numbers I can call back.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

I have learned that I can identify the nature of the call by the five-second silence before they come on the line. And the background is filled with the chatter of other

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

“agents” “assisting” “customers.”

I am going to turn off the cell phone. I am going make some soup for my lovely wife. We are going to have a quiet evening in the cottage.

I will deal with health insurance, tomorrow.