ADD UP THE ‘EXTRAS’

I love to travel.  Let me rephrase that.  I love being in new places—not necessarily getting to them.  We’ve found new ways to add costs to things that shouldn’t be charged for in the first place.  Take airline seats.  Once they were wide and cushy and fully reclined.  Now you have to squeeze into them like a gymnast.  Every airline provided three-course meals, including lemon- scented, warmed, hand towels afterwards. No more.  

Recently, I purchased a ‘great deal’ on a roundtrip, 12-hour flight to Sydney.  Then the add-ons trickled in.  Checking one bag would be an extra $50.  My original seat choice showed the majority were taken, so I was forced to take a middle seat towards the back.  However, a few days before my flight, I was ‘magically’ offered 50, new seat choices up front, for only $150 extra. They had both aisles and windows and extra, leg room.  What luck!!   

Visiting family recently, I chose an Air B&B near my favorite hotel, because it was half the price.  Well, it started that way.  The tiny room was cute, though part of the house, so I could hear everything.  The couple that rented the room next to mine clearly had no clue that their bed was mere inches from my head.  There was also no window or view.  On the final bill, there was an extra $100 charge for cleaning, $49 for taxes and a $75 service fee.  Guess what?  It was MORE expensive than my favorite hotel, minus the ocean view, space and privacy!

Dare I tell you about my hotel room in Honolulu last night?  It was located smack between the ice machine and the elevator.  When I opened the door, I discovered the mattress wasn’t flat but actually listed to one side.  It also faced a major construction site. When I asked to move to another room, the woman at the front desk said with a completely, straight face, “You paid for a STANDARD room.  If you want a DELUXE room, that is another $100 a night.”  “Let me get this straight, I said, “your STANDARD room comes with a lopsided mattress, is noisy and has no view?”  She had no comeback.  

I walked outside and there were homeless people everywhere.  I can’t help but wonder if all these ‘extras’ our economy is charging are keeping so many from having the bare essentials.  What’s next, a surtax on sand?   

I’D RATHER ROW THAN WADE

Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Skiff (La Yole) 1875 Oil on canvas, 71 x 92 cm Bought, 1982 NG6478 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG647

Had lunch with a friend this afternoon at a local restaurant and we were seated in a booth.  When the food arrived, I suddenly realized just how low my seat was.  My chin was almost even with the plate.  I asked the waiter for a booster seat.  He just looked at me.

“A booster seat?” I asked again.  “Do you not have one?”

“Um.  Yes.  We do,” he replied still staring at me.

“Would you bring me one, please?” I asked again.  “Or maybe you have some pillows?”

“Well, I see the issue.  This booth has the lowest seat of all the others in the restaurant but we don’t have any pillows.”

“Then just bring me a booster,” I repeated for the third time.

“Um.  I’m not sure you’d be very comfortable in one,” the waiter said.

Finally, I understood his reticence.

“Are you trying to tell me politely that you don’t think my butt will fit in one?”

He went violet.  

“Um, yes.  I guess.  I mean they are for kids.”

“Just bring me one and let me decide,” I said firmly.

Reluctantly, he returned with a booster.  I put it under me and maneuvered myself in.  I’ll admit the fit was snug but I finished my entire lunch sitting in it.

When the Supreme Court rendered their reversal on Roe vs Wade today, I was dumbstruck.  This is not a matter of whether abortion is right or wrong.  This is simply a matter of giving women the CHOICE of what to do with their OWN bodies.  If men gave birth this would have never even been an issue.  Never.  Not once.  Not in 1973. Not now in 2022. Not ever. Never.  

Just bring me the damn booster and let me decide if I want to sit in it.  

LIGHT IT!

As a mental health counselor, I’ve had my share of suicides, psychotics, schizophrenics, and a host of other tortured, lost souls:  Men emasculated by women.  Women abused by men.  Siblings that can’t stop fighting.  Couples that can’t stop quarreling.  Addicts that can’t stop addicting and an aging populace that has lost its’ purpose.  Recently, a teenager told me that she was ‘too old’ to start re-inventing herself.  ‘Too old?’ She has a lifetime ahead of her. If she’s lucky, she’ll reinvent herself many times over.

I know what I’m talking about.  In the last 5 years, I’ve changed cities and my entire friend group, taken up a new sport, learned how to play ukulele, had two knees replaced, two cataract surgeries and started working again.  Between podcasts, reading books and observing others, I’m not done learning by a long shot.   

Our brains start to solidify by age 25, when our neural pathways become well-worn into grooves.  Change is still possible but it takes work.  The key is to continuously create new pathways to break apart those stuck patterns in the brain.  The older you get, the harder it is to break free of them.  If you really want to change, you need three conditions:

  1. Focus on what you want to change. 
  2. Create the right environment (meaning eat healthy, sleep deep and move often).
  3. Repeat/ practice (meaning do the ‘new’ thing, like learning ukulele, over and over).

Often, my older clients are reluctant to leave the house at all. Some only go as far as the mailbox. It’s not just COVID. Sometimes it’s due to physical issues but more often than not, they’ve simply forgotten all their options. Even if they think of things to do, they’re hesitant to do them alone. They feel stuck. I get it. But you know the irony? I meet far more people when I’m out alone than I do when I’m out with others. 

Here’s the thing.  Unless you believe in reincarnation, you have ONE life.  There are no do-overs.  From my perspective, many people not only live lives of quiet desperation, they feel STUCK.  And the irony?  They are not stuck at all.  They just THINK they are.  Look, you don’t need to burn the candle at both ends—you just need to light it.

SUNYASHNIKIIS

Ukraine’s National Flower

In 1880, when my great grandmother was born, life expectancy was 40.  A Chicago ordinance banned people who were, “diseased, maimed, mutilated, deformed, unsightly or disgusting.” If you were deemed too ugly to be in public, you had to pay a fine of $1 to $50 or go to the poorhouse.  Women didn’t have the right to vote.  There were no child labor laws and 2 million kids, aged 10 to 15 were working full time jobs.  People with mental issues were either shocked into submission or lobotomized.  65,000 mentally ill Americans were sterilized.

When my grandmother was born in 1900, one in three children died before adulthood.  No one survived a burst appendix.  People died from milk because pasteurization didn’t exist.  Breathing radon was considered a cure for tuberculosis.  Doctors said cigarettes helped asthma.  Parents were encouraged to give their kids heroin-laced cough syrup made by Bayer.  Cocaine was marketed in the Sears Roebuck catalog as a treatment for toothaches and depression.  Syphilis was treated with mercury.  

When my mother was born, life expectancy was 53.  There were no antibiotics and penicillin hadn’t been invented.  There were no governmental agencies like the FDA to certify a product’s safety.  There were no vaccines like polio nor refrigeration to keep it viable.  Water wasn’t chlorinated but came straight out of rusty, lead pipes.  Few had indoor plumbing.  Dead animals and feces were everywhere on the streets. The KKK was such an open, accepted part of American society that they publicly sponsored festivals and beautiful baby contests.  Executions were public and in 1936, the last one in this country was attended by 20,000 people.  

By the time I was born, there had been two world wars and Vietnam had just started. Life expectancy was 66.  When my children were born, life expectancy was 76.  However, there is a widening gap between our Life Span & our Health Span.  Many are shuffling into old age decrepitly.  Geneticists envision a future where we’ll be able to self-scan our bodies for impending disease and Immunotherapy and Artificial Intelligence will further help close that gap.  

A brave, new world is coming!  Or so I thought.  I was feeling pretty lucky to be in this present one until Putin single-handedly drew us back into the Dark Ages:  bombed cities, burned landscapes, babies among the dead bodies and unprovoked destruction in every direction. Now, I must sadly ponder the life expectancy of Ukrainians and long for the return of their golden sunflowers.

CAST THE FIRST STONE





The closer I get to death, the more I want to live.  It’s as if I know there are a certain number of miles left on my feet so I MUST keep moving them in hopes of squeezing in even more.  I dance down the aisles of the supermarket.  Sing at full volume with the radio.  Breathe in every flower in my path and lean out the window to smell honeysuckle at the drive thru Starbucks.  Nothing must get past me—not even a stranger.  I meet someone new EVERY day.  Everything makes me cry, even the death of someone else’s puppy.  Everything makes me laugh because I don’t know when I will experience it again.  I can barely sleep at night because what might I miss in the dark?  

But as punch drunk as I am about Life, Putin’s death march has been sobering. It’s not easy to find and hold joy as you watch a sick, psychopath wield his tiny saber and conduct a killing spree.  His cold, tight-lipped stare says it all.  There is no child he won’t slaughter, no city he can’t rubble and for what?  More land?  He’s already poisoned what he has with treachery and bodies. In his wake, there is only twisted metal, burning buildings and blood.  It was one thing for Hitler to get away with his butchery in a world safe from the glare of a TV camera or iPhone.  But now?  We are all witnesses.  How much destruction and how many will be buried before he is stopped?           

A friend gave me this stone last week and it’s not just any rock.  It is a Shiva Lingam stone found in only one place at only one time of year:  at the Narmada River in India.  Centuries of erosion have made it smooth and cylindrical.  It is said that it came from the debris field of a meteorite which crashed into Earth some 14 million years ago. I crashed into Earth the exact, same year that Putin did.  While I want to wring every second out of every breath, he wants to wring every breath out of every second. You can’t squeeze water from a stone, any more than you can negotiate with a serial killer.  If I were David, I’d put my stone in a slingshot, take Goliath down and be glad of it.  

MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

ON THE STREETS OF WAIKIKI

Homeless people have been around since I was a young girl in the 60’s wandering the streets of New York City.  Back then, they were few and far between, sitting quietly beside a sign that read, “Spare change?”  Now, they are up front and very center across America. On any given night, half a million people are laying their heads on the ground, exposed to the elements, disease, filth and predators. Statistics say it’s due to unemployment, unaffordable housing, drug use and mental health issues.  And while those things do affect the numbers, there is something deeper at work:  they have lost connection with others.  Sometimes that connection is lost by accident.  Other times it is a purposeful break due to violence, trauma, or family alienation which now affects 27% of us.  

13 years ago, a Stanford graduate fell off the grid.  His concerned classmates, after a long, circuitous hunt, found him alive and sort of well living on the streets of New Orleans.  That story had a happy ending.  Most don’t but often it’s not for lack of trying.  My own mother spent her later years walking the streets of Long Island pushing a shopping cart.  At night, she slept in a baseball dugout.  Despite getting her into housing, she always bolted claiming that she needed, “fresh air and freedom,” both of which came at a price.

Homelessness is a broken connection.  It cannot be simply fixed by relocation, housing or even treatment.  There is no one size fits all when you are talking about people.  If you want to repair a broken circuit, you first have to turn off the power to it, troubleshoot which breaker has malfunctioned, replace and rewire it.  On a plastic panel, it’s a simple process.  In a human being, the breakers are endless and finding the right one to re-wire is often a crapshoot.  This crisis across America will take a multiplicity of interventions connecting together at the same time.   

I’ve spent the last few weeks in Hawaii.  It is not the paradise I remember from 25 years ago.  Now, I cannot go a single block without encountering a homeless person.  I often take the bus but have yet to be able to sit at the stop, since there is usually someone sleeping on the bench.  Once, I was chased into the street by a man who threw his socks at me because I didn’t have a light for his cigarette.  But I’ve noticed something:  The police are tolerant and the locals leave food and coffee by their camp sites.  Yesterday, a blanket and a cooler filled with water and bananas were left on a park bench.  This morning, I added my own pair of worn shoes.  As Iyanla Vanzant so poignantly said, “You have to meet people where they are and sometimes you have to leave them there.”      

LIGHTEN UP

Apparently, this is NOT a ballet barre.

There is perhaps no more mournful place in American than the local gym.  Where else can you see a sea of grimacing, grunting faces in various heave-ho positions?  It could be all the mirrors.  I’d be depressed if I stared at nothing but myself, too.  When folks aren’t staring at their anatomy they are deeply involved with their cell phones.  Deeply.  From my observations, the average gym goer spends more time looking at their phone than actually working out.

If you go to the gym, do NOT attempt to converse with anyone, particularly those with ear buds.  They do NOT want to be disturbed from their very, serious business.  Also, do NOT attempt to ‘work in’ with those who have laid sweaty bandanas across the equipment or placed a water bottle at the base.  They plan to occupy that territory for as long as it takes them to do 10 reps, then pause for 5 minutes to look at their phone, do 10 more reps, etc.  They are not in a hurry to work out.  They are, in fact, camping out.  This morning, a man sat on the same piece of equipment while I swam a half-mile.  After I showered and changed, he was still sitting there!

I dare you to go into a gym without your phone and ear buds.  You will get more done in half the time.  You’re also more likely to start up a conversation and burn social calories.  (Yeah, that’s a thing.)  I also dare you to ride a bike without staring at the TV.  Talk about feeling the road.  Distractions are just that.  They keep you from doing the work.  If you don’t do the work you won’t get results.  If you want results, stay out of the gym.  

If you do go, here are some ways to make it fun:

Ask the guy wielding two, heavy ropes if you can, “Double Dutch,” with him.
Ask the 6′ 4″ kid shooting hoops if he’ll take your picture. Explain you’re writing a ‘style’ piece for the NBA.
Pretend to get stuck and ask someone to extricate you from the machine.

But WHATEVER you do make it fun. Life is too short to take yourself that seriously.

USE YOUR WORDS!

OMG!  Hasn’t life been SO much simpler since we reduced words to three letters?  I checked the AQI this morning and decided not to go outside.  Since I don’t take PED’s, I had to do something so headed to the GYM.  (My acronym for Get Yourself Moving)

FYI, more people stare at their phones there than exercise.  So, while they’re texting LOL’s to their BFF’s, I wait and fume.  Finally I say, “Hey.  I’m getting OBM.  Can I work in with you before I GOP?”  A guy wearing a JDI shirt is sprawled in the middle of the mat doing nothing.  I ask if he would mind moving over.  He doesn’t budge.  RUS?  I say, “Don’t wear a JDI shirt if you’re not gonna DI.” 

I head to my car and pass a woman and her mom having coffee at an outside table.  The mom stares at her phone and says, “Honey, what does EMF mean?”  (Had she not told her, I’d have had to look it up). TMI? In the car, I turn the radio on.  WTF is up with all the commercials?  If you have a UTI, STD, PTSD, BPD, ED or OCD, you’re in luck.  There’s a drug for you.  If you just wanna listen to music, however, you’re SOL!   

Back in the day, cops put out APB’s if you were wanted. You were DOA at the morgue and SOS meant ‘Help!’  Now?  We’re living in a 3-letter world.  OIC.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this:  Ariana Grande’s last song was ‘POV’ and 60 Minutes just did a whole segment on NFT’s.  

FTR, I had lunch today with an older friend who doesn’t own a computer or cell phone.  As she struggled to recall where the Red Sea was, I opened my phone.

“Hey Siri?”  I ask.  “Where is the Red Sea?” 

“It is an inlet of the Indian Ocean between Africa and Asia.”

“Isn’t that cool?” I brag.  She looks askance.

“I could’ve looked it up.  Imagine all the other things I might have noticed along the way.”

Branson and Bezos just zoomed into space; a zillion dollars for 10 minutes of free fall but what did they see ‘along the way?’ Do we really need to spend that kind of money to “realize just how small we are and how fragile Earth is?”  DTS. We’re on the expressway of knowledge but everything is flying by.  Nothing is sticking.  Initialism has become our self expression.

Recently, I helped look after the adorable fellows pictured above.  Oh, how I loved listening to them use their words!  Every syllable was a symphony to my ears.  When the littlest dropped his toy and I said, “Uh, Oh.” He replied: “It happens.” Honestly?  Isn’t life short enough without shortening it even more?  IDK.  I’m thinking of adding all the letters back in. It might just prolong my life.

CHEAT SHEET FOR THE CHALLENGED

OMG: Oh My God

AQI: Air Quality Index

PED: Performance Enhancing Drugs

FYI: For Your Information

LOL: Laugh Out Loud

BFF: Best Friends Forever

OBM: Older By the Minute

GOP: Go Out to Pasture

JDI: Just Do It

RUS: Are You Serious

EMF: Enjoy Mother F…..

TMI: Too Much Information

SOL: S… Out of Luck

FTR: For The Record

OIC: Oh I See

POV: Point Of View

NFT: Non Fungible Tokens

DTS: Don’t Think So

IDK: I Don’t Know

OUR CHILD

Last Sunday, CBS ran a piece on the Sackler family and their profiteering from opioid production and deceitful marketing.  Their company, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for their role in creating our nation’s opioid crisis which has killed half a million people in the last 20 years.  As their name was removed from countless buildings around the world, there was another death.

This young man, the son of a very, close friend, was given a street Percocet laced with Fentanyl.  It stopped his heart.  Now before you criticize him, pause a moment to reflect on your own teenage years.   Do you ever count yourself lucky for getting away with things that might well have killed you back in the day?  I do.  He was 19, returning to college this fall, had a part time job at Home Depot and was teaching tennis lessons to kids. 

Our nation’s drug crisis is not trivial.  It is endemic and so deeply woven into the fabric of our communities that not one of us are immune to its’ peril and all of us have been touched, even tangentially. This child is not just my friend’s son.  He is our child and we have lost him forever.

We can do better.  So, while this mother grieves for what was and now will never be, we must see ALL children as our OWN. You can make a difference in your community. Who knows, you might even give a kid a second chance to grow up.

  1.  Encourage the use and distribution of Narcan, which can save someone from an overdose.  It should be available and affordable to anyone that might need it.  At present, it’s only legal in 8 states and astronomically expensive .  
  2.  Ask the courts to assign ‘help’ time not ‘jail’ time for our addicts and ‘REAL’ time for the dealers.  
  3. Insist that lawmakers tighten controls on prescription writing so that pills don’t keep falling into the hands of our children.
  4. Instead of penalizing drug companies AFTER the fact, hold them accountable NOW in both their product and marketing!!

Ironically, the Sacklers lost a son of their own.  He was an addict and committed suicide in the 70’s.  They never mention him.  

GET THE DAMN SHOT

My oldest daughter came home for a visit yesterday and as we walked across the patio she said, “Oh, Mom.  I love how you haven’t pulled the weeds.  It makes everything so GREEN!”  She was serious.  I was dumbstruck.  What a wonderful world this would be if all of us found that kind of positivity in a gnarl of chaos.

Since her visit, I have thought about moments recently where I could have employed that same outlook but didn’t.  What first came to mind was being cut off in traffic, mid-turn by a woman in a huge, pickup truck.  She blew through a red light and even though I had a green arrow, I had to slam on my brakes mid-turn to let her pass.  Lucky for me, she was going to Trader Joe’s, too.  Yes, I followed her in.  Yes, I stood outside her huge, orange truck looking up at her and waited for her to emerge.  When she did, here is what I should have said:  “How fortunate I am that you drive such a BIG truck I was able to see you in time and slam on my brakes when you ran that red light!“

When a friend of many years sent me a bizarre, far right, conspiracy video complete with grossly, false statements, here is what I should have replied:  “How wonderful I have your emails to remind me that some seemingly, normal people really are duped by QAnon conspirators!” 

When my tennis partner hit the ball to the net player for the third time in a row and I got blasted, she turned to me and said, “Look.  You need to be ready for those.”  She was dead serious.  I was speechless.  Here is what I should have said.  “How lucky I am that you’re so good at continually placing me in jeopardy!  I’m sure it will quicken my reactions in no time!”

 My daughter has given me inspiration.  Now I need to apply it to my next challenge:  a friend who is at high risk for Covid, has young children, is single and lives at the poverty level has just told me she is NOT getting the vaccine because she, ‘does not trust what’s in it.’  Here is what I am going to say:  “You don’t know what’s in bologna but you eat that!  Get the damn shot!”