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?   

‘REAL’ LOVE

I saw this key next to a brochure promising, “Real Love,” sitting on a bench this morning when I took my walk. It seemed as if they were ‘planted.’ A little contrived, I thought. And yet? There was no one around but me. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find ‘real’ love on a park bench? Walk up, read the tract and then. . . just turn the key?

Once, while counseling a couple of almost 40 years, the husband suddenly turned to me and said, “You know?  I just don’t ever want to argue with her.  I love her too much.”  Thousands of songs have been written about love and the platitudes are endless:  love is holding hands and not caring if the other person is holding too tight or not tightly enough.  It is not having to prove you’re right or prove anything at all because there is nothing to prove.  Love is not making the other person happy but sharing in their joy.  Love lifts you up.  It doesn’t break you down into your lowest common denominator as if you were a mathematical equation or squeeze you into a box.  It always has your back—because you matter more than any scale of justice. 

And while there is truth in all of those, there is one sign that always resonates with me. I saw it in that couple.  ‘Real’ love is being with someone who smiles just because they’re looking at you.  

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.”      

SHAME ON ME

Just when I think I’m at a stage of life where things are straightforward and clear, I get a curve ball.  I’m doing a quick shop at Trader Joe’s.  As I enter the produce section, there is a man fondling the bananas.  Yes, fondling.  He eventually pulls off only one.  I’m intrigued.  His clothes are ill fitting and shabby and the seat of his trousers seems oil soaked.  When he turns towards me, his long, stringy, unkempt hair frames a gaunt face that is missing several teeth.  I peg him as homeless.

Two aisles later, we pass in the frozen food section.  His walk is jerky and odd.  Definitely not Parkinson’s, so I wonder if he might have Tardive Dyskinesia.  I vaguely remember it has something to do with taking too much anti- psychotic medication.  I smile at him as we pass and he smiles back.  

Later, as I stand in the checkout line with my small bag of five items, he comes up behind me, still carrying one banana and a small bottle of water.  I offer to let him go first.

“You only have two items,” I say.  “I have five.”

He insists I go first.  I thank him and checkout, silently wondering if it’s perhaps he is getting his food free from the cashier.  

As I maneuver out of the parking lot, he crosses in front of my car with that stumbly gait.  I wait for him, assuming that he might be going to the homeless encampment half a block away.  However, as he gets towards my side, he gestures at me to roll down my window.  I do.

“I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my house for dinner tonight and watch a movie,” he asks sweetly.  I’m stunned to almost wordlessness.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I reply, “but that is sweet of you to ask.”

“Ok,” he says and goes on his way.

I wrestle with myself all the way home.  Does he really have a house?  Is he delusional?  Am I?  Then I realize that it doesn’t matter.  For the whole time I was judging him, he was looking at me with hopeful kindness.  I saw only a burned out car and missed the fact that it was really a BMW.

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

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW!!

A few months ago, my eye doctor told me that I had cataracts in both eyes and one was a stage 4.  “Oh,” I said upon hearing the news, “I was having trouble playing tennis at night.”  He was incredulous.  “I don’t think you quite understand,” he replied.  “You’re actually legally blind.  You shouldn’t be driving, let alone playing tennis.”  So, I had one removed.  The change after surgery was so dramatic that I was utterly convinced my vision was perfect!

Nope.  Now you may see the difference between these two sets of pills, but my eyes fooled me last week.  The white, elliptical one is my heart pill.  The yellow, oblong one is for the thyroid.  Somehow, in the bright sunlight, I poured my new prescriptions into the wrong, waiting bottles.  Since I only take one of each every day, the mix up wasn’t particularly crucial.  But it did give me pause.  What if my thinking is as faulty as my eyesight is becoming?  What if what I think I see isn’t what is there at all?  And what if my mind makes decisions based on my faulty seeing?

Such was the case this morning at Ace hardware for one, young man.  As the cashier rang up my batteries, she noticed that one was mismarked and asked me to get another one.  The kiosk was only a few feet away.  So, I walked over, grabbed another one and as I returned to the cashier, a man in line yelled at me for, “cutting in line.” 

 I explained calmly that I did not cut but was merely finishing the purchase.  He was so mad he didn’t even let me finish my sentence.  “It’s about time someone put you in your place,” he barked.  “We’re all waiting,” he said, indicating the line behind him. At a loss for words over the absurdity of his behavior and complete Iack of awareness, I noticed that the back of his black, T-shirt said, “Only in darkness can you see clearly.” 

So, instead of saying what I really would have liked to say, I simply repeated the quote on the back of his T-shirt.  He had a blank look on his face.  Completely blank.  Then he said, “You know what?  You are completely wasting my time right now.”  

“Well, darlin’” I replied,  “I can see that.

I walked out thrilled.  Clearly, I am not the only one who doesn’t see clearly!