ObamaAir

Imagine you get a phone call advising you that you have to fly from Chicago to Houston for a quick business meeting.  No problem, you think.  You fly all the time.  You’ve flown for years. You know how it’s done.

You go online to purchase a ticket, but when you get to American Airline’s website, you receive a “404 Page Not Found” error.  That’s weird, you think, so you contact a travel agent (“Wow,  a travel agent.  That’s sooo 1994!”). The travel agent advises you that American Airlines is in the process of forming a joint entity with the United Nations so that people all over the world can fly for free.  “It’s called UN-American!” she tells you.  “Un-American?” you ask.  “No, UN-American!” she says.  “It’ll be great!” “Won’t that put you out of a job?” you ask.  “Oh, I don’t think so,” she says.  “The government would never do that.”  

She then tells you that, after spending $6 million, they expect to have the website up and running in about six months.  “And it’ll be run by the government, so all your private information will be safe and secure,” she says happily. In the meantime, she can sell you a ticket the old fashioned way.  Swing by and pick up your paper ticket any time, she says.  But there will be a $45.00 surcharge to cover your carbon footprint. “You know, since you have to use your car and all,” she says sniffily. When you tell her you tried to purchase your ticket online, she interrupts you. “You know that you are now required to travel with luggage,” she says.  “But I don’t need luggage,” you tell her.  “It’s just a day trip.”  Better bring a bag anyway, she says.

So, on the way to the travel agent, you go to Marshall’s and pick up a nice suitcase, on sale, for $150.00.  In it, you place a business suit, casual shoes, dress shoes, clean underwear, cosmetics and a blow dryer.  You pick up your ticket at the travel agent’s office, then drive to the airport.  The parking rates have doubled.  Odd, you think.  I wonder why nobody mentioned that?

When you arrive at the check-in counter, your bag is taken from you, placed on a conveyer belt and incinerated.  You are then handed a paper sack containing a pair of men’s size 11 Croc’s, a t-shirt from an Ah-Ha concert circa 1981, and a cardboard carton of shrimp fried rice. “That’ll be $450.00,” says the clerk.  He has acne.  He is wearing horned-rimmed glasses and he needs a haircut.  And a shave.   On his forearm is a tattoo of Che Guevara.

“What happened to my bag?”  you ask.  “Oh, that old thing,” he replies.  “It was substandard.  This is better.  Way better.  Ah-Ha was more than just “Take On Me,” you know.” But I can’t wear a men’s size 11 pair of shoes, you tell him.  And I’m allergic to shellfish. Instantly he gets huffy.  “Well, I should know better than you about what you need,” he says.  “After all, do you have a degree in art history with a minor in gender studies?”

He then informs you that it’s time for his break, and flounces away.  He appears to be wearing a onesie. It occurs to you that if this is what customer service looks like, the actual flight will probably be a disaster.

As you envision flames coming out of the engines, you decide maybe it would be better just to cancel your trip.  However, when you try to cash in your ticket, you are told that you are not allowed to do that.  “What if everyone cashed in their tickets?” you are asked.  “The airline would run out of money and no one would be able to fly for free!  What’s wrong with you?  Are you selfish?  Don’t you care about the children?”

Maybe I should just rent a car, you murmur.  “Can’t do it,” you’re told.  All alternative means of transportation have been cancelled.  It’s now illegal for you to purchase any other means of getting from Point A to Point B.  And, since you have considered something other than flying, you will need to contact your accountant to figure out how to pay the additional $750 Alternative Travel Method Research Subsidy Fee. “Alternate Travel Method Research Subsidy Fee?” you ask.  “What exactly is that?” “Oh, the ATMRSF,” says Justice Roberts.  “It’s a tax.”

A commercial comes on the airport television screen, interrupting a CNN newscast showing Barack Obama shaking hands with a guy wearing a keffiyeh and carrying an RPG.  A little nerdy guy in a bowtie tells you that H & R Block can help you with the ATMRSF on your 2014 tax return.

“What about the pilot?” you ask desperately.  Pajama Boy strolls past, apparently coming off his break. “If you like your pilot, you can keep your pilot,” you are told.  “But don’t worry, if you have to fly with a pilot’s assistant, they are usually just as good.  And cheaper, too. Cheaper is better for everybody.”

What can you do?  Along with everyone else, you are herded towards the gate.  You clutch your paper bag in one hand and your checkbook in the other.  Maybe you can learn to like shrimp fried rice.  With foreboding in your heart, you board the plane. Although your ticket says you are in Seat 26B on a 737, you find yourself directed to Seat 3.  You are on a 1974 twin-engine Cessna with no seatbelts.

“Are we going to die?” you whisper to the old man sitting next to you. “Don’t be ridiculous!” he proclaims robustly, swigging down his gin and tonic.  “I voted for this!  We all have to make sacrifices!  Besides, the government knows what’s best for us!”

You look out the window and sure enough, smoke is coming out of the starboard engine.  As the plane slowly wobbles down the runway, the flight attendant gets on the intercom and burbles, “Won’t it be great in 2016, when everyone gets to fly like this?” The plane picks up speed, bounces once into the air, comes back down, blows a tire and skids through a billboard for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  As the plane shudders to a stop, in the seat behind you, a baby starts wailing. “Don’t worry folks, it’s just a glitch!” says the pilot.  “No one could have predicted it would be like this!”

“I could have told you it would be like this,” you say.

Unfortunately, no one is listening.

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Lessons from an Old Dog

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Last night was a rough night. How rough?  The first thing I Googled when I woke up this morning was “night wandering dementia.”  That’s because my default position tends to be cerebral — conduct research,  try to find solutions — when something’s going wrong.  And I admit that I’m not a particularly sweet person.  I’m certainly not a natural-born caregiver.  And I don’t do sleep-deprived well.  So, now that I find myself the snarly, sleep-deprived caregiver of a senile old dog, I tend to spend a lot of time searching the internet for solutions to insolvable problems.  Last night, it was night wandering.

At about 2:30 in the morning, Sadie started wandering.  She wandered down the hall and into the living room, where her toenails went “click, click, click,” as she slowly worked her way through the dining room and into the kitchen.  She stopped for a drink of water.  Then it was  “click, click, click” over to the sliding glass door, then “click, click, click” around the breakfast room table, then “click, click, click” around the coffee table, and past the overstuffed chair.  There she paused at the hallway, while I silently prayed, “Please go to sleep, please go to sleep, please go to sleep,” but no, it was “click, click, click,” back to the dining room and then the whole cycle started up again.  Fourteen times.  I know.  I counted.

I let her outside.  Coat, hat, boots and gloves.  It was freezing.  She stood there until her feet got cold.  I let her back in.  I walked her back to the back bedroom.  I pretended to go to sleep.  I let her back outside.  She didn’t have to do anything.  I let her back in.  She pooped in the hallway.

I didn’t kill her.

Eventually she settled back down and went to sleep. Sleep took a lot longer to find me.  I fell into a groggy, vigilant doze sometime around 5:30.  When I woke up at 6:30, I was bleary-eyed and headache-y.  And, I admit, I took a small sadistic joy in waking Sadie up from her sound sleep a half hour later.  But it was hard for me to maintain my sadistic glee — her waggy tail knocked the “muahahahahaha!” right out of me.

Night wandering, I learned, is common in both humans and dogs who are suffering from dementia.

This afternoon, the elevated dog-dish holder I ordered from Amazon arrived, and thankfully, it is making eating and drinking a little easier for her.  Before, with her head down and her back feet unable to gain any traction on the hardwood floor, Sadie would lose her balance and stumble, once straight into her water dish.  I decided to test-drive the elevated dish holder by feeding her a little lunch.  She ate everything in her bowl with great enthusiasm. And immediately threw up on the kitchen floor.

Here’s a stock tip for you:  Buy shares of Johnson & Johnson, Woolite, and any company that makes paper towels, toilet paper or carpet cleaner.  I’m going through a lot of carpet cleaner and a LOT of toilet paper these days.

Look, I am not a patient person.  I know this about myself.  However, I’m learning to control my temper, and I’m learning to read my own tell-tale signs of when I’m about to lose it.  And, more importantly, I’m learning how to keep it under wraps.  It would be really unfair to lose my temper at someone who just can’t help it.  Managing my frustration — keeping a lid on it for the good of someone else — is what adults are supposed to do.  I’m trying to be a better person, taking care of this old dog.

Another thing I’m learning is how much I appreciate my husband.  I’m not sure how I would handle it if he were saying things like, “You really need to be thinking about putting that dog down.”  I like the fact that he seems to appreciate Sadie, even though she is deteriorating.  It’s a matter of character.  His character.  After all, I’m not getting any younger either.  And I really appreciate the fact that he doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to trade Sadie in for a puppy.  Maybe that means he’s not in a big hurry to trade me in for a younger model, either.

I am learning that old age does not have to be a killer of joy.  Sadie is always happy to see me.  She also has to trust me now in ways she’s never had to trust me before.  She lets me stabilize her rear end when she eats.  She lets me lift her out of the car when she can’t figure out how to jump out of it.  She leans on me when she gets dizzy from her interstitial vestibular disorder.  And she lets me boost her up so that she can get in though the sliding glass door – a step that she leaped over effortlessly for fifteen years now presents an insurmountable and sometimes bewildering obstacle.  When I see her standing helplessly staring at it, I help boost her over.  Between the two of us, she makes it through.  It’s a small victory.

There are frustrations to having an old dog.  Day-in and day-out caregiving is never easy, whether it’s a dog or a person.  I am reminded of books like “Tuesdays With Morrie” — sure, Morrie seemed charming and wise to Mitch Albom, who only visited him once a week.  But it’s a whole different story when you have to provide care for someone 24/7.  I wonder if Morrie’s wife thought he was charming and wise when he was getting on her last nerve at two o’clock in the morning.

Dealing with Sadie has become a real challenge, a test of my vigilance.  Outside, she gets into the horse pasture and she can’t get back out.  Every time we go outside, it’s a race between whether she will remember why we’re outside, whether she can find a place to do what she needs to do, and how long her feet can tolerate the cold and snow.  I’ve stood in -20 windchills watching her wander aimlessly, only to have her lose it within moments of getting back inside.

She gets stuck in corners and can’t figure out how to get back out.  She walks into rooms, forgets where she is, falls into closets, can’t change direction or get out of the way.  Her problem-solving skills are gone. She’s sporadically deaf – sometimes she hears me, sometimes she doesn’t.  She can’t run any more, although she thinks she can.  The other day she came running back from the pasture at a speed that would have been remarkable in a dog half her age.  But by the time I caught up with her she sat down . . .  then slowly she lay down . . .  then slowly she fell over. . .  and I was sure that this was it – show’s over.  But, no.  After about ten minutes, she caught her breath, let me help her to her feet, and then trotted to the back door, as happy as an otter.

It took me considerably longer to recover.

Two days later, she did it again.

Oh, and I worry.  I worry that coyotes will attack her.  I worry that she will wander down the driveway and into the road.  I worry that she will hurt herself, get injured or frostbitten or fall.  I watch her sleep.  I worry that she will stop breathing in her sleep.  And I deal with the certain knowledge that she is going to deteriorate further, and she is going to die.

There are good days and there are bad days.  For all the work, though, it’s worth it.  Her love never changes.  Her unqualified acceptance of me never changes.  It’s nice to do something helpful for someone; even if she is “just a dog.”  It’s simple and good.  And she exhibits none of the self-pity, complexity or guilt that infiltrates human charity.  Sadie never glares at me and thinks, “I don’t  need your pity!”  She accepts my help with uncomplicated good will.

Sadie is teaching me a lesson in aging happily. I can only pray that I will deal with old age and infirmity as well as she does.  In this day of the glorification of youth, I hope that someone will appreciate me as I grow old.  And I hope that whoever is responsible for taking care of me as I lose my faculties is able to appreciate the upside – the humor and the majesty, really – of just carrying on.

First Blog – Some Random Thoughts on Blogging, Heroes, Villains and Human Nature

So, I’ve started a blog.

I’m not really even sure what that sentence means. I think it means that I’ve finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the year 2004. I think it means that I am attempting to overcome my compulsive desire for privacy and to try new things. It might mean that I’m letting go of my fear of using words even if I’m not 100% sure of their definition. Words like “blog.”

I find it astonishing that I live in a time in which pen and paper, books, publishing companies, and the IBM Selectric II typewriter, et al., are becoming obsolete. I admire the generation (or two) of people who are approaching these changes fearlessly. I readily admit, I am not one of them. First of all, I have to overcome my not-unwarranted fear of putting something out there for all eternity to see, which can never be retracted. That’s scary. I would hate to be held accountable today for some of the nonsense I spouted with such fervor back in 1994.  Moreover, back in the day, my diary was kept under lock and key.  In this age of pernicious, omnipresent autobiography, nothing is private.  Embarrassment is so 1977.

Second, I hate to learn new things. And blogging seems to operate by you put it out there, and then fix it later. This makes me very uncomfortable. For example, the website sent me straight to a location where I could immediately start writing my own blog. Foolishly assuming the website knew more about blogging than I did, I wrote an entire blog which, to the best of my knowledge, has completely disappeared. If it shows up somewhere else, I hope someone will let me know.

And then you all can point at me and laugh, and laugh, because I posted two redundant blogs on the same day. (Go ahead. Laugh. I know it will make you feel better about yourself. This is what I live for.)

I’m posting this first blog on December 30, which seems to be a good day to look back at 2014 and to look forward to 2015. No, that’s not quite true. Actually, that’s sentimental claptrap. I don’t want to look back at 2014 at all. It was not exactly a banner year for me. It was filled with inertia, self-doubt, passivity, timidity and fear. I set two goals, neither of which I accomplished, and it’s been a confusing, disheartening, paralytic and not a little bit scary period of time in my life. I have found myself hibernating in my little hermitage and withdrawing more and more from the world, focusing fearfully on the negative and not putting myself out there much at all.

Some of you are probably thinking, “Really? You? That doesn’t sound like you at all.” Well, we all wear masks, and probably the most tightly nailed masks of all are the ones that look like, “Fine, fine, everything’s fine, we’re all fine, sure, yeah, great, everything’s fantastic.”

One thing 2014 brought me was Netflix. Wow. And I thought HBO was bad. So, I compounded my inertia by binge-watching back episodes of “Chuck,” and “Luther,” and “Sherlock” and “Firefly.” I tried telling myself that I was researching story-boarding, and believable dialogue, and character development and conflict set-up and resolution, but that’s just bullshit. Actually, I was just binge-watching a lot of really good television that somehow I had completely missed.

However, one good thing came out of all that vicarious living through other people’s stories. I culled out this little gem:

“You know, in 1988, two psychologists published an article arguing that positive self-deception is a normal and advantageous part of most people’s lives. It turns out, people lie to themselves about three things. They view themselves in implausibly positive ways, they think they have far more control over their lives than they actually do, and they believe the future will be better than the evidence of the present can possibly justify.” – Alice Morgan, “Luther” (Season 2, Ep. 1)

I could unpack the whole thing, but for now, I want to stick with “[t]hey view themselves in implausibly positive ways.” We do, don’t we? This got me to thinking about a human quality that I’ve been reflecting upon quite a bit these past several years, and that is the ability that most people have to justify and rationalize almost anything. And they use language to reinforce their belief system that what they did was not really wrong.

A sex offender justifies having intercourse with a 12-year-old child by calling her his “girlfriend.” A thief justifies stealing by claiming that he’s just “trying to get what’s mine.” (Ironic, isn’t it, that stealing something that doesn’t belong to you is the very antithesis of what we mean when we use the word “mine.”) A relatively decent person justifies dumping all over a really nice man just because the last man she went out with was a dick.

It occurs to me that this rationalization serves a lot of different purposes. If we have a conscience, it eases it. Shame and guilt are eradicated. It places the blame not on ourselves, but on some external “other.” There’s a reason why we behaved badly. It’s understandable. Weaknesses become strengths and victimhood becomes empowering. We’re able to do what we do because someone else did something to us.

I’m beginning to believe that our heroes are the people who, when faced with a choice, refuse to dodge the truth. They accept personal responsibility for their actions. They do the right thing, even when it’s easier not to. Their moral code is an absolute and it does not falter in the face of societal pressure or changing mores. It answers to a sense of immutable honor that does not change with the prevailing wind.

And we relate to the heroes, don’t we? When we lose ourselves in a story, how often do you watch a building explode, a car tumble through the air, fire, flames and screaming and think, just as the car lands on some poor schmoe’s head, “Yep. End of the world. That would be me. Knowing my luck, I’d be the guy who got flattened by a car 30 minutes into the movie.” We don’t do that. We never put on a red shirt and volunteer for the landing party.  Of course we don’t. We imagine ourselves surviving the end-of-the-world scenarios, striding across the desert lighting up cigars like Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in “Independence Day,” while the alien mothership disintegrates into beautiful fireworks over the horizon. Storytellers know this. It’s part of our collective mythology.

Villains, on the other hand, are rarely so resolute. Villains, to my mind, are the people who have justified their bad behavior. It’s what makes them human. It’s what makes them relatable. A two-dimensional, fully evil bad guy is no fun. Don Corleone would have lost something if not for stroking that cat. He’s a person. He thinks he’s right. Otherwise we’re reading comic books, not engaging in a fully developed story.

I’m working on a book, as some of you know, and I think I’m going to rework it to address the idea that no one is ever the villain of his own story. I’d like to take this cast of characters, throw them into some truly bizarre, oblique, strange, confusing, scary and threatening situations and see which of them are “heroes,” and which of them are “villains.” Will they see themselves in “implausibly positive” ways, in order to do what they do to survive?

Just so you know, the reason I’m putting this out there is primarily to keep myself accountable and to keep my story moving forward. I’m committing to periodically posting updates to let you know how things are progressing. I hope you will be interested in my progress, and I look forward to hearing your input. If you haven’t heard anything from me in a while, I hope that you will nag me so that I don’t get away with viewing myself as an implausibly positive writer while I’m actually sitting on my ass and being inert.

I also plan on posting on other topics as well. Politics (unavoidable), things that strike me as meaningful, or funny, or interesting, my thoughts on horsemanship, art, books, science, astrophysics and algebra, the disintegration of the legal system, the breakdown of society, and Life With An Old Dog. I hope you’ll tag along with me. Oh, and please feel free to leave your comments.  You should know, however, that if you say anything that isn’t unstinted admiration, I reserve the right to completely ignore you.

After all, it is my blog.