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A Decade About Nothing

There’s an old Chinese curse that says “may you live in interesting times!”. Well, the 1990s were interesting and I lived through them. They’re now a good ways behind us in the rearview of life, chronologically and culturally. So, no surprise that I enjoyed reading the book entitled The Nineties, A Book (truth in advertising there!) by Chuck Klosterman. But I’m not sure I’d like Mr. Klosterman quite as much.

The ’90s were interesting…just not as interesting as the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s or the decades which have come after it. It was all in all, a comparatively docile, almost boring time when, on the grand scale, not a lot happened. There were two minor skirmishes in the Middle East but the Cold War had ended, temporarily as it now would seem, acts of terrorism were generally small, localized and more often than not overseas, putting North American minds at ease. Most economies were doing just fine… at least on our side of the world. Russia was struggling a little, but at least they were peaceful and electing their leaders, so we figured all was dandy in that part of the world. And for people like myself, it was when our generation – Generation X – found a name and its footing in the Grown-up world. Klosterman speaks to all these topics and much more in his book, a decent summation of the 10 years, or 12, we call the ’90s. Wait – I can hear you saying “12? A decade by definition is 10 years!”. True as that might be, Klosterman suggests the “’90s” began in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, reuniting Germany and putting a visual to the concept of the “Iron Curtain” dissipating and freedom sweeping former Communist lands. And it ended, he argues, on Sep. 11, 2001, when the carefree days of the ’90s suddenly came crashing to the ground.

Overall, its a nice, nostalgic look back at the decade when people still generally considered a phone something attached to your wall that you called to talk to people on and when you had to be home on Thursday nights to see “Must See TV”, or else… you missed them (unless your VHS was set up and didn’t go on the fritz). No binge watching a whole season on the weekend back then, needless to say.

Which leads to the biggest change-maker of the decade – the internet. Only by 2000, many Americans still couldn’t comprehend how much of a life-changing factor the “World Wide Web” was going to be. But as the author points out, at the time, about half the population didn’t have internet access, or in many cases any interest in obtaining it and those who did probably used AOL and to get there had to listen to half a minute of screeching sounds as their dial-up modem connected. Newspaper readership was still about the same in 2000 as it had been about 30 years prior and Napster was in the process of being shut down but seemed like a college phenomenon to most older people who still bought their music. On CDs – compact disc sales actually peaked in the year 2000, at just under one billion units in the U.S. alone. By 2010, they’d be a quarter of that.

Klosterman looks over the big news events of the ’90s like the brief Gulf War, the “Waco seige” (as someone who knows many people in Waco, I can add that the locals hate that description and almost invariably point out that the compound and the uprising took place some 20 miles away from the city), the Columbine shooting and of course, O.J. Simpson. He has some interesting details and insights into each and lets his opinions show through. He refers to O.J.,like so many of us do, as a killer who got away with it : “two people had been brutally killed by a familiar celebrity.”

And of course he reminds us of Monica Lewinsky and the man who made her a household name, Bill Clinton. He writes a lot about Clinton.

As befitting a book by a Gen X-er about the ’90s, he also looks back at pop culture. How alternative music became the norm. How Seinfeld and Friends ruled the TV world. He disliked both but preferred Seinfeld, it would seem because being a “show about nothing” was different and fit the times. Curiously, he forgets to give a shout-out to the ultimate TV symbol of the times, the Simpsons. To him, it only merited one passing brief mention, in context of a movie it spoofed . He mentions how Titanic succeeded to not only make a profit but become the biggest movie ever at the time, despite long odds against it. He correctly notes that for all the hype about Nirvana, Garth Brooks sold more records that decade than anybody else. In his opinion by taking on the persona of a classic rock macho man, dressed up in a country costume, to replace the aging rockers made redundant by the Seattle grungers.

Which leads to my personal beef with the book. While it’s great Klosterman expresses his own opinions, I find them at times both contradictory and sometimes condescending. He’s the typical hipster art snob in places, the one who thinks that Quentin Tarantino was the only person making worthwhile movies but wasn’t elevated to James Cameron or Steven Spielberg heights because only a tiny handful of people like Quentin and himself were smart enough to understand them. And then he writes as much about Reality Bites as almost any other film or cultural event, but only to detail how it only appealed to us Gen X types because everyone else could see how idiotic the Winona Ryder character was in it. He seems to in places deride Nirvana but then spends three pages praising “Smells like Teen Spirit” suggesting will still be a cultural cornerstone 50 or 100 years from now and that it , and only it, changed the face of popular music. “(it) is not transposable. It had to be this song, delivered by this person.” (Italics his, not mine.) But then he casually suggests in that time period, Pavement might have been the best band in the world, while limiting R.E.M. to a brief passing reference and forgetting about U2 – the biggest touring rock act of the decade – altogether. Such are the contradictions of Klosterman. Which are expanded when looking at politics.

While seemingly identifying himself as a “progressive” rather than even a “liberal” or “Democrat”, he barely disguises his disdain for President Clinton, although he grudgingly admits “the Nineties were a good time to be president and (Clinton) was a good president for good times.” Much of this was due to Clinton’s willingness to compromise to get things done, but more than anything it seemed to revolve around Ms. Lewinsky. He states that a “progressive” a decade or two from now will not be able to comprehend how “slick Willy” could be elected, let alone twice, and worse yet, have been popular! Whether or not you agree with that, or somehow think Arkansas Bill was the very first president to have sex outside of his marriage, it seems incredible that the left-wing Progressive writer in turn had no real complaints about Clinton’s bookends, Presidents Bush 1 and 2. In fact, he didn’t see any differences between George W. and Al Gore, other than people thought Bush wasn’t as condescending and would be nicer to have a beer with. Perhaps correct, but it seems silly to suggest that Bush pushed the same agenda Gore and the Democrats did, and sillier yet to suggest the American public didn’t care at all who won the election and were bored with the recounts and tussle after the 2000 election. He must have been on another planet to have experienced it that way; I was in a different country but saw day after day of stories about the election and the protests about it in the news and how high the fevers ran on both sides.

However, he might be right in suggesting that in the end, the course of the country for the 2000s might not have been as influenced by the “hanging chads” as we thought then. About nine months after Florida was officially called for Bush’s favor, who knows what would have happened had Gore been in the White House. Because then the World Trade Center came crashing down and as Klosterman states, all at once, “the Nineties collapsed with the skyscrapers.”

The Nineties. Sort of a “decade about nothing”…which isn’t such a bad thing we now can see.

A Real Life Jeckyl & Hyde Story, Straight From The Palace

Seems like he’s everywhere these days. But he might not be at Westminster Abbey on May 6 to see his dad officially crowned “King”. Obviously I’m talking about Prince Harry, or perhaps Harry Wales as he might be called now. I just finished reading his memoir, Spare, and my reaction is…complicated. Like Harry. Probably seldom since Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde has there been a story about a character with such opposing sides to him. He’s responsible yet irresponsible, mature at times yet largely immature, fiercely loyal yet disloyal as well, smart but dumb, a conservationist who at times shows little regard for life, a soldier who at times shows little regard for military protocol. One thing about his book – it’s never a dull read.

The book really covers his whole life so far, at least as he remembers it, right up through his grandma Queen Elizabeth’s death last year. For the few who might not know, Harry was the younger son of Prince Charles (now “King” Charles) and Princess Diana. Which set up the two major points which have shaped his life. One, his difficult relationship with his older brother William, compounded by the fact that William would be next in line for the crown after their dad, making him the “heir” and Harry, “the spare”. William seemingly always gets preferential treatment therefore, from better houses to more plum diplomatic assignments on behalf of the country. Two, his difficult relationship with his parents. He adored his mom, but as we know, she died in 1997, when Harry was not yet 13. In contrast, Charles was always distant and rather cold towards Harry, and things didn’t improve when dad took up with his long-time mistress, Camilla.

Given the circumstances of his mother’s death (being in an accident when chased by paparazzi) it’s understandable he has a longstanding, deep dislike for the press and especially their photographers. “Paps” he calls them, when he’s being polite. But while William has avoided major controversies and abuse from the British press, Harry has seemed a magnet for it. Some fair, some not so, but even he admits some of his actions didn’t help his case any. Wearing a Nazi uniform out, even to a costume party, can’t help but draw negative attention to oneself, as he found out bitterly. Even he admits now that was rather boneheaded, though he blames his brother and sister-in-law Kate for encouraging him. Which points to that overall immaturity mentioned before. He’s been portrayed as wild and drugged-out, which he has taken issue with all the while documenting his ongoing use of marijuana (still illegal in the UK) and frequent use of psychedelic drugs – throwing his “friend” Courteney Cox under the bus while doing so – and years of heavy drinking. He was criticized by various press members for joining the Army and going to fight in Afghanistan, which is probably very unwarranted. He seemed to sincerely want to be one of the men and do his country’s bidding. But, he then goes on to detail, “brag” some might say, about how many Taliban he killed over there, which has incited the military brass – that’s not something you talk about – and made him more of a target for terrorists than ever before. This while he goes on to document and complain about the troubles of finding adequate security to protect him and his family. And, as an environmentalist myself, I am in admiration of his work in Africa and hands-on support for animals like Rhinos and elephants… but equally displeased by his love of blood sports, fondness for shooting birds, rabbits and squirrels unchecked and am dumbfounded he seems to think killing off the biggest, strongest deer around is good for nature. Obviously, if trying to hunt to “help” the natural balance, one would cull the smallest, lamest members of the species.

All that said, he does make some good points and have some valid reasons to complain. He seems quite concerned about returning soldiers and helping them deal with physical and mental harm they endured overseas, something many a government, the United States included, often seem to ignore. And, many of his good traits deal with his wife, Meghan Markle, who seemingly can’t win for losing with the British tabloids. She has worn clothes picked out for her by the palace and been slut-shamed by the press for them, been reprimanded publicly for getting into a car before Queen Elizabeth when the queen told her to “get in the car”. Curiously, the late Queen is one member of his family he speaks of in good terms and seemed to genuinely love. Meg’s been slammed for her former life as an actress and been slurred because of her mixed racial background. Some of the racism, which he says is far stronger in Jolly Ol’ than in the U.S., or Canada (where she lived seven years) , might be perceived. His mom, Diana was the whitest of women but still got raked over the coals by the tabloids. But some of it is clearcut and vile – there’s no way to put a good spin on a newspaper running a photo of a couple with a chimpanzee and labeling it “royal baby goes home”. No wonder he’s angry. And I would say his loyalty to his wife is one of his best traits, although unfortunately it seems to require casting his family aside to do so. But for that, Charles and William share at least as much blame.

All in all, a complicated man to figure out, but one who has an interesting story to tell. I hope he continues to mature, little by little and can really find his life’s calling. For his many flaws it’s hard not to rather like him, nor to admire his willingness to throw away his royal title and ties.  And after reading the book, one might think that we could also hope his work endures even if his father’s does not. Because Spare is certainly not a great endorsement of the British royalty or the system it comes from.

Zen & The Art Of Mockingbird Feeding

We live on a reasonably quiet street, and each day I see three or four people dutifully walking their dogs along it. Often twice a day. At times I feel envious.

Not on days when it’s pouring or one of the rare days it’s below freezing and the roads are icy here, but many days. Seems a peaceful way to get some fresh air and exercise, and be alone with your thoughts.

We don’t have any pets, though some readers may remember me writing about Allie Dog a couple of years back. That was a fine black lab we ‘baby sat’ for over a year. A more pleasant disposition one never found on a dog, and I quite enjoyed walking her down the road to the local park. It seemed like she enjoyed that too. But she long since was reclaimed by her owner, and in fact, has gone on to the Great Sniffing Grounds beyond since then. We’ve had no inclination to replace her.

Now, I like cats – they usually seem innately drawn to me too – and found with Allie that at least some dogs are wonderful companions. But our little family all have allergies (Allie was largely an outside dog during the day, in a makeshift little bed in the garage at night type dog, though on freezing nights we’d put an old sheet on the sofa and let her in , usually all of us waking up sneezing and very congested the next day) and that doesn’t go together well with having “fur babies.” Plus we share a house with a couple of relatives who would have to be included in the decision-making process anyhow.

So no pets… but I do feel like I have some nonetheless. Especially “Morgan”.

Morgan” – a name I just came up with now – is a Mockingbird. As readers also probably know, I love birds. So there’s a bird feeder in the front yard, not too far from the bedroom window. I make a point of putting the food out in the morning in winter. We get a great array of common feeder species – Cardinals, Blue Jays (a bird I’d love even if my favorite sports team wasn’t named after them), chickadees and their perky relatives, titmice (hey, I didn’t name ’em!), various sparrows on the ground – but this year we’ve also had a Mockingbird or two.

Now Mockingbirds aren’t at all rare here , in fact they’re the state bird. They’re prominent in almost any suburban area or bushy area. But they’re not generally known to come to feeders. But “Morgan” certainly does. It’s not surprising really. I actually undertook a study of them in Canada, where they’re not at all common, and found they are great generalists. I saw them eat almost anything imaginable – tiny bugs, large hornets, all kinds of berries, sunflower seeds in parks. Their dietary range isn’t that far off our own.

Anyhow, after a few weeks this winter, it seemed as soon as I walked out the door with the container of seed, “Morgan” flew in from wherever he – or she, they all look alike to us! – was. It was uncanny. At first he’d sit at the far side of the large oak tree up high. I’d be back in the house looking out the window before he’d fly down and grab a snack. As the winter wore on though, he got bolder and bolder. Nowadays, he’s often on a branch staring down at me, within arm’s length, and is feasting away before I have the lid on the seed jug. If I’m running a bit late, I swear Morgan seems to be giving me a “where were YOU?” look.

It’s funny because that’s a bird that not only isn’t normally a “feeder” bird but also has a great reputation in bird books for being “aggressive” – flying at people’s heads and so forth. I’ve never found that to be the case…but then again, other studies show they can identify individual people, flying at one person regularly while sitting, chirping demurely when someone of similar size in the same clothing goes by. Makes you wonder what they – and other animals – would say if they could really speak our language.

It’s not walking half a mile with an animal, but it makes me feel connected to something else, gives me a sense of just giving back a little to this world we as a species do so much harm to. Helps set my day off on the right foot.

Not yoga or meditation, it’s the Zen of Mockingbird feeding.

Odd Job Memory Jogs

Do you have any talents that might surprise others? I think we all do. Someone asked that not long ago, and it got me thinking. Not so much about a specific talent, but about a job I had and did well in that was rather out of the blue. For a good two years, I was on essentially a construction team for a large retailer.

Now those who know me know that I’m not exactly “mechanically inclined”, nor am I any kind of weight lifter. I’m more inclined to be working at a computer desk, or maybe with pro photographers, processing their films (there’s a blast from the past – “film”?) or helping them pick out equipment. Or going back a ways, in parks, cataloguing birds and leading hikes than donning a hard hat. But that’s what I did for some time…and I loved it!

The situation was that I’d just moved back to my home area, and had been out of work for a bit. Back to the “film” becoming an anachronism thing; jobs working with it were becoming scarce by a few years into this century. So, a large pharmacy/small department store was building a brand new, bigger store near where I was living. I decided to apply. After all, nothing much to lose and the pay was OK for a temp job. I was apprehensive the first day, when I, and about 50 others who had nothing better to do I guess, showed up at the empty concrete shell that would be a bustling store in a month or so. We were given hard hats and a utility knife; we’d already been told we needed steel toed shoes on the site. We went in, were broken into little teams, surveyed the vast empty space, with a few half-walls here and there and stacks and stacks of metal shelves piled up, covered in shrink wrap. There was tape on the new, shiny floor, and blueprints (well, actually on regular paper but the same idea) every few yards. After a short introduction and marginal demonstration, we were to assemble the shelves, four foot by four foot section, where they were supposed to go. The shelves clicked into the supporting racks pretty easily, but there were of course different sized ones, some wider, some narrow. Some had lights built in. Some were in refrigerated sections.  Some of the store was white shelving, other areas gray. The work wasn’t overly heavy, but it was a workout nonetheless. They rang a bell, almost like school, when it was time for lunch or a break, and again when we were to be back on the floor. I went home the first night tired, but not dreading going back the next day like I feared I might.

Many others didn’t feel the same; by Wednesday of the first week, only about half of us still were coming in. I learned they always hire a lot more people than they think they need because a large proportion simply won’t come back after a day or two, or will be too unwilling to work and follow rules so get let go. As the time wore on, the shelves went up, the pharmacy equipment and cash registers got put in, and then came the trucks…and the planograms. It takes a lot of products to fill a 25 000 square foot store. After a few days, there was a steady stream of tractor trailers backing up, dropping off skids (or what most people here call “pallets” apparently) of boxed merchandise. It had to be quickly dissembled, whenever possible carted right out to the floor, with overstock going on skyhigh racks in the warehouse part. And that’s where the planograms come in. Basically, it’s a map of where every single item in the store is going. Believe me, in a large national chain, things aren’t just put out “willynilly”. Everything is in its specific place and it’s planned down to the arrangement of colors of hair twirly thing on a rotating displayer. Most of it was pretty easy – if you followed the plan exactly. Which many people didn’t. And of course, those hundreds of feet or planned shelving and displayers all needed price labels. Computers were brought in, hundreds of pages of stickers were printed out and carefully applied to the shelving, again each one in precisely the right spot.

All this was being done with the oversight of a trio of Head Office people who were in charge of overseeing the company’s expansion. Head Office or not, they wore jeans and hard hats like the rest of us. After a few days, I found them all pretty approachable; liked working with them.

By about the second week, I’d been basically placed in a little team with a couple of other guys, one, we’ll call him “Tom”, a millennial and a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect!) and a bit of a cynic, the other an older guy, “Paul” , who’d retired from a skilled job at a factory and didn’t especially need the money but wanted something to do to keep busy and pay for his beer – of which he’d consume less with a day job to keep him occupied. We were pretty ordinary guys, but we got along fine and at least we could figure out how to stack boxes of detergent on a shelf or know it was important to attend to frozen food coming through the back door quicker than, say plastic totes full of batteries and dog toys.

The big day came for the  grand opening, and of course, it was remarkably busy. Most of the crew that had made it through the month were kept on for a few days to help out; after all we knew better than anyone where everything was in the store and the stockroom.

Before we were all finished though, the Head Office types came to my little team and said we’d done really well. They had a similar store being built, a few cities over. Would we like to go work on it? We all agreed that would be cool, so why not? After a week or so to rest, we were back, duplicating the first job in a new city with new co-workers. Paul had a nice car, so we carpooled with him. I got in good because I remembered to give him gas money on payday! Tom sometimes had to be reminded “hey, hey, this car don’t go 70 miles a day on fresh air!” . That job went even smoother since we had experience by then.

And so it went. Along the way, we picked up a fourth guy, around my age too, that had a similar work ethic. We became an in-demand crew. For a couple of years, the company was growing steadily and we were brought in to help set up any new store within about a 50-mile radius. One store was open while we were doing it – they’d bought out an adjacent store and doubled the floor space. That was some fun! Moving shelves around while customers were trying to grab shampoo off them, or walk around electricians trying to run cable across the aisles. One day we went in and the wall between the two was literally gone; demolished overnight in a cloud of dust. It took about six weeks to get that one fully functional.

The Head Office people became, dare I say “friends” ; they were ordinary people doing their job and respected that we were the same. We were even cut a little slack at times. One time we were about six shelves short for an aisle, and most of the day’s work was done. The next day they sent the four of us in a big rental truck to the corporate warehouse, miles away, to pick up the six, four-foot shelves. Suffice to say realistically, it wasn’t a four man job.  “Make sure you’re back before 4”, we were told, and keep a receipt for lunch so we could be reimbursed. One time, one of the REAL Head Office staff, the type who’d have an office in the headquarters and likely wear a suit into it, dropped by to see the progress of one of the stores. We’d met him a couple of times before. He came over and asked us how much we were being paid. I told him and he said … wait for it … “that’s not enough. I’m getting you guys an extra buck an hour.” And he did. If there was a down week, with no construction they’d even gotten into the habit of sending us to problem stores; ones that were very messy or with stockrooms overflowing with unboxed goods, to kind of pull a two or three day store blitz to get them back in shape. It was surprisingly satisfying work. It wasn’t complicated, and gave me time to let my mind wander a bit if I fancied, but by the same token, it wasn’t mind-numbing like some factory jobs. I’d probably go crazy if I had to stand in one place and put one screw into one piece of metal on an assembly line over and over, eight hours a day for years. This one was just different enough from day to day, just enough pressure to meet deadlines and prioritize tasks to be tolerably exciting and easy enough as to not me cause huge levels of stress. And being noticed and praised by office executives is a plus on any job!

Eventually, the growth period for that company slowed and those jobs dried up. Paul got hired on to merchandise one store, weeks later I took a job running a small department of one of the store’s we built and did that for a couple of years more.

I look back on those days quite fondly. And with amazement . That first day I showed up at that empty shell of a store in steel toed boots, I would never have guessed it would be a part of my life for several years and what’s more that I’d have fun doing so. Let alone be seen as very good at it to boot. I think there’s a message in there for all of us. Sometimes it’s good to be open to new experiences and in doing, you find talents you don’t even recognize.

(I didn’t take the above photo, but it was similar to the empty structures we’d go into the first day. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t take a camera in and take some construction sequence shots during them.)

This Time Machine Serves Coffee

The book I was reading over Christmas was a bit of a departure for me, an impulse buy on a bargain table at the local Barnes & Noble – Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. It’s a relatively short book, a collection of four related short stories. Hey, it was on sale, takes place in a coffee shop and had a bonus cat on the cover, so what’s not to like?

With a name like Kawaguchi, it probably should have occurred to me that it was a Japanese book, translated into English. But in fact it didn’t until I was several pages in, not that it mattered. It came out in Japan in 2015 and was released in the English version in 2020. In between those years it was made into a Japanese film, Cafe Funiculi Funicula, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it adapted into an American flick before long as well. It certainly had a sort of theatrical feel to the story and prose.

One thing I found interesting was the very style of that prose. It was clearly different than what we North Americans have gotten accustomed to reading. A little denser, perhaps, a little more poetic for sure. Even though set in the modern day, there is a distinctly “old”,literary feel to it. Kawaguchi goes to great lengths to describe the characters, and the setting, sparse as most of it is. “He was wearing a navy polo shirt and beige knee-length shorts. It was what he often wore on his days off. It must have been hot outside, as he was fanning himself with his black zippered portfolio…” One imagines most American writers would have described him, if at all like “he was dressed casually and fanning himself.” The effect is both charmingly poetic and yet a bit of a detour to quick consumption of the novel. As are the moderately-long list of characters, with names foreign and often similar-sounding to our ears – Hirai, Kazu, Kohtake, Kei… one can imagine how a Japanese reader reacts to a Western story full of Jordans and Josh’s and Jacksons.

All that noted, the story is still the thing in it, and it is quite a compelling one at that. Without too many spoilers, the setting is a mystical Japanese cafe, a small underground club, run by a small family and close friends. Limited seating, limited menu but a big reputation. It is rumored to be a place where if you ask, you can go back in time! Oh and it has a resident ghost too.

However, it’s not that simple for would-be time-travelers. There are any number of restrictions on their voyages. They can only sit at one seat…which is usually occupied. They only have a short time to spend in the past when they do go…until their coffee gets cold, in fact. And most importantly, whatever they do back in the past, it’s not going to change the present day…which sort of defeats the purpose for most. So, going back three weeks to place a bet on last week’s bowl game won’t add a dollar to your bank account when you return; asking out that girl who might have had a crush on you two years ago brings you back to your same single existence now, should that be the case.

Yet four different travelers, all cafe regulars, choose to do so …and find that even if the here and now looks the same, a different decision in the past can bring them to a better mindset now. Or change the way they will make decisions from today onwards.

As the Christian Science Monitor note, the prose is “uneven and tends to meander” however, it has an “unerring ability to find lasting emotional resonance”.

All in all, it seemed like an enjoyable enough little visit to a foreign city and perhaps, to the Twilight Zone. It also left me pondering if I’d bother trying to revisit the past, if the restrictions placed on it were as set out there? Couldn’t wander around, so there’d be no going to Dallas in November ’63 to try and stop Oswald…or see who really pulled the trigger even. No going to a club in L.A. In 1982 to meet a then-single and unknown Susanna Hoffs before her Bangles became a million-selling band. And even if it seemed like maybe a friend you had a coffee with five years ago had a great idea for a business that you both should have followed up on, going back to the conversation would leave that business unbuilt and you in the job you have today. Is it worth it?

Perhaps. Maybe there’d be time for one more phone call to that parent a few days before they passed away, say the things that were left unsaid. Maybe the guy playing the guitar on stage no one noticed ten years ago is now the next Bob Dylan. Going back there wouldn’t make you his manager or part of his jet-setting entourage now, but might give you a second chance to really pay attention, so today you could say “I remember seeing him when…”.

Then again, maybe just thinking such things can leave us more aware of making better choices today. If a 240 page book can accomplish that, it’s a worthy read in my estimation.

Let’s Do The Right Thing People

First off, a Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope 2023 finds you optimistic about the dozen  months ahead, as well as in good shape. Which will lead us to this column’s topic.

Recently my friend Keith at Nostalgic Italian was good enough to put up a nice review of a book I wrote a few years ago called Thank Goodness : 101 Things To Be Grateful For. It got me thinking about the world right now…and I’ve got a bit of extra time since currently I’m quarantining for Covid. Let me say, thankfully I’m not feeling very sick and seem to be on the mend…and for that I’m grateful.

But what it reminded me was one of the things I put in the book was “Being able to do the right thing when no one’s watching.” It’s not something that always comes automatically to me, nor I suspect, most of us. I noted that it was what came to mind when someone had asked me how I defined “character.” After all, it’s easy to do the right thing when you’re being watched. Most of us do. We pick up the doggie doo when walking the pup through a park. Stop at the red lights when there’s traffic. Wash our hands when we are finished in a public washroom. But what matters is doing that when no one is around. Give back the extra $20 the cashier accidentally handed you in change. Pick up the garbage on your neighbor’s lawn, even though you didn’t throw it there. And stay home when you’re sick!

That last one is a bit more challenging to me than the others I mentioned. And, from what I see around me, it’s downright impossible it would seem for most people in this city. But it’s what we need right now.

My sweetie came down with Covid a week ago. Although at first it only manifested itself with cold-like symptoms and a little fatigue. However, by day 2, she’d developed a bad cough and got to talk to her doctor through a tele-conference. She was prescribed some meds, and by then was trying to wear a mask all the time around the house. I too, began doing that in an effort not to catch it as well. And that worked well, for a few days. At least I’m grateful (there’s that theme again) I stayed well while she was at her sickest, thus being able to go out to get her prescriptions, get our supplies, cook her some soup and all that. But by Friday night I wasn’t feeling good, and I awoke Saturday, after an entirely uncharacteristic 11 or more hours sleep, feeling feverish and having zero energy. So, I decided to try to do the right thing and take one of the home tests. The little bar just about flew off the control strip, so high was my virus concentration it would seem. So I agreed, I should do the right thing…namely quarantine, for at least the five days the CDC recommends.

This is not a lot of fun for me. Although I am a homebody, I am also used to going out pretty regularly, running errands, shopping, taking the kiddo to work…even if only to get some fresh air and out and about for an hour. Being confined to the bedroom and bathroom is not pleasing. Especially when it’s quite nice outside, and again, thankfully, by yesterday I was already starting to feel better. Not “great” nor close to “100%” but not that bad. A bit worn out and feeling like I had a cold or very bad hayfever. Today, the trend continues, I find myself a little less exhausted than yesterday and still sniffling some. And I find myself short on coffee, and almost out of deodorant (of course, right now I can barely smell anything… but other people can!) . Certainly the temptation is there to just go out, do a bit of quick shopping, get a few steps in. I’d wear a mask, because that’s one frustrating thing through all this. I am one of those rare ones who’s refused to stop wearing masks when I go to stores or other indoors people places outside the home.

Alas, some members of the extended family don’t share my enthusiasm for that, and come by when they’re sick. And judging from what I’ve seen around town, they’re in the majority. When I went to get my sweetie’s meds from the pharmacy, the usually reasonably quiet spot in our local supermarket had a lineup at least a dozen long. Many were coughing with gusto; only two besides myself bothered to don masks; no one was trying to keep a six-foot social distance between themselves and others. Perhaps understandably. The line was so impatient one thinks that if it was attempted, four more angry sick people might squeeze in front of you and dared you to say anything.  A trip around that same store that night yielded no more than two others wearing masks, but a whole infirmary’s collection of people coughing and sneezing. And almost empty over-the-counter cough and cold sections, as the photo above illustrates.

Now, I am aware a few unfortunate souls are pretty much all alone and really might have needed to go out for themselves to buy a bottle of cough syrup, a loaf of bread or pick up Paxlovid from the pharmacist despite feeling ill. My heart goes out to them.  Although it is worth noting, the store delivers. But most people have someone they could call, or yell across the hallway to that is healthy and could do it for them, or else already have well-used Door Dash and Favor delivery accounts. And as for those shopping for cosmetics or the first swimsuit of the summer while their noses run and they’re barking like an angry seal with a Covid cough…well, don’t even get me started.

Again, I say it’s not always easy to do the right thing. It would be easy for me to say both A) I don’t feel very sick right now and B) almost no one else around this area is acting responsibly and quarantining, so why should I? and go on my merry way out into the crowds. But I won’t. Because the one person I happened to sneeze on in a lineup might be the 80 year old with no immune system, or the person you didn’t know was undergoing cancer treatment and this inconvenient extra-strength “cold” might be infinitely more serious for them.

Do the right thing people. Show some character when you’re sick these days. Let’s make it a happier and healthier new year.

A Christmas Questionnaire

Thanks to Keith at Nostalgic Italian, who gave me this idea with a post he did recently. A look at our Christmas preferences and traditions, feel free to comment or make your own list!

  1. 24th or 25th? I always liked celebrating Christmas on Christmas, the 25th. That’s what we did when I was growing up. Seems nice to be able to sleep in, get up, get around to opening presents and such at our leisure on the day itself, followed by a nice meal. When I was single but grown, I’d sometimes go to church with friends on the Eve – the candlelit services are quite touching and spectacular looking – , other times watch Christmas movies, sometimes at home, sometimes with one of my parents. Nowadays though we have our big celebration on the evening of the 24th, a meal with opening of the majority of the gifts, sometimes a game or bingo or something like that. Now that I’m in a big, extended family, it makes some sense, as relatives have grown kids who have spouses or significant others and often they’ll need to find time to spend time with those families. Getting together on Christmas Eve seems to work. And having a quieter 25th to reflect, eat and maybe play with the gifts isn’t a bad deal either.

  1. Real or Fake? Trees that is – get your minds out of the gutter! I, and others in my family both as a child and now with my wife and her family, have allergies. Pine is one of them, so we always had a fake tree as a kid. It’s a tradition I’ve kept and we have here too. Real trees seem a lot of work, a fire hazard and at times prone to looking mediocre rather soon. Plus, not that budget friendly… spend $100 on a store tree and it’ll last years and years. Spend $50 on a real one and you’ll spend $50 more next year and so on. Fake trees these days can look fantastic and quite realistic.

  1. White or Green? Everyone loves singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, but do they really dream of one? Well some do, but not me. Of course, context probably matters. I grew up in Canada, and even though I was in the southern part of that land, white Christmases were the norm. If the snow had fallen on the 24th or on Christmas itself, it could look pretty, but it made getting around to visit treacherous. If it was from days before, it tends to look pretty ugly really… pristine white snow doesn’t stay pristine or white for long in a big city. And I’m not fond of being cold. Now I’m in Texas and the average high on Christmas is 60 degrees, 15 Celcius. I love it. I can go outside and enjoy it in a hoodie or light jacket rather than layers of clothes and gloves. But most of the locals do dream of a white Christmas, because real snow is so rare here.

  1. Colored Lights or White Ones? To me, Christmas lights are a rainbow of colors. Red and green primarily, but you need some blue and yellow, maybe pink or orange added in too. It looks festive! But I find more and more I’m in the minority because most people I know like the uniform white ones. It’s not the same, but they can still look very nice on a tree or around a house.

  1. Eggnog or Hot chocolate? See above on allergies! I can’t eat eggs, so the nog is a no-go for me, but even if I could, somehow I don’t think I’d like it. Something about its look, smell and consistency just seems quite unpleasant to me. Hot chocolate I like now and again, with a few little marshmallows in it. So it would win that battle easily for me, though a nice winter ale followed by a good blend of coffee still top my Christmas Eve drink list.

  1. Turkey or ham? Both are quite nice, but ham is my pick. Growing up, it was usually turkey. My Mom, God love her, tried. She wasn’t a big cook, but she’d make some dinners and she always went all out on the Christmas one. But the turkey was almost always dry. She’d get up early in the morn to put it in the oven, and we’d eat at 5 or 6PM. More recently, I’ve found turkeys don’t need about 12 hours of cooking! Green bean casserole is one Southern specialty that I’ve really come to enjoy as a sidedish. Keith, whom I mentioned gave me this column idea, says it’s ravioli for him. Nothing wrong with that… eat whatever food you really enjoy on the special day.

  1. Gift cards or Gifts? On my most recent birthday, someone gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card. I love books, so I made use of it but I actually did something unusual – I splurged on a couple of things I’d normally not buy. It was an over-priced, but thoroughly interesting “magazine” documenting the entire career of Roxy Music, a band I’ve always liked, and a novel I’d never heard of but looked like it might be interesting. So it was sort of like an unexpected gift, if you will. That said, I’m not a big fan of gift cards for gifts. It’s not that they’re bad in themselves, I just find too many people give them with no thought . I prefer to give and get things that show the giver really was thinking about the person getting it and what they might really like.

  1. Christmas Story or Home Alone? A no-brainer to me, A Christmas Story. It makes me laugh every time from the “fraj-eel-ee” leg lamp to the pink bunny pjs to the villainous store Santa. Home Alone just seems mean-spirited to me and I’m sorry, but something about that Culkin lad just irritates me just looking at him. But better still…

  1. The Grinch or Charlie Brown? I’d give Charlie a tiny edge but my answer is “both”. Both were part of my childhood routines and two things I try to see each and every Christmas season still. I love both, for their stories and even their rather simplistic animation. Linus telling everyone what Christmas is really about and the tree springing to life when they gather around and sing. The Grinch’s heart growing three sizes and little Max wagging his tail at the Christmas table with the tiny Who butlers taking successively smaller trays to the kids. How can they not make you smile and appreciate the magic of the season? Point of order by the way – always the animated Grinch over the overly-long and needlessly explanatory live action remake.

  1. At home or clocking in? Most of us enjoy having the day off (with pay no less! Few think Scrooge hard done by for having his pocket picked every 25th of December, LOL). I know I always did and usually have the luxury of being at home with my family which is great. But on at least two occasions I volunteered to work on the 25th when I was single. It was when I was working as a department head in a large drug store which stayed open due to the pharmacy and other necessities it sold. I figured someone had to do it, so I might as well, get some overtime pay and let the married types with kids have the day off to enjoy. I found most people coming in the doors were in good moods, and the mood was pretty relaxed among us staff. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it did heighten my already existing appreciation for those who have to work on Christmas – police, fire fighters, hospital nurses and staff, even the radio DJs and TV techs who make sure A Christmas Story or Home Alone are airing for the rest of us to enjoy. Keep all those types in your thoughts on this Christmas, and give them a nice word at least should you see any of them.

That’s some of my thoughts, would love to hear yours! One more thought – no matter what Christmas means to you , or even if Hanukkah or something else is your special time at this end of the calendar, I wish you a happy and healthy one and thank you for reading.

Older And … Wiser?

Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn once had a song which went “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.” Sometimes it’s hard not to think Bruce was right. I was reminded of that while looking at a story on Bored Panda recently about “40 People Share Things They Used To Love That Have Become Less Fun With Age.” I was nodding along in agreement faster than you could say “hey you kids, get off my lawn!”

Among the lengthy list, “leaving the house – I used to be a social butterfly, but now I have to convince myself to go get the basic necessities”, which led into another suggestion, “shopping.” Yep, I get that, even if I was never precisely a social “butterfly”, Saturday nights used to be for going out and hanging with friends. I used to live near one of the country’s biggest malls and would go walk around it for recreation if I was bored when I was young. I enjoyed looking at the new clothes rolling in and could spend countless hours in the three record stores.

Now, there are no more record stores, I don’t live anywhere near that mall and my attitude is largely “I have clothes, why would I need more?” If eventually something doesn’t fit or has holes in it, there’s a Walmart close by. I did splurge on a blazer not long ago; found it online. I have a nagging fear that one of my deathbed thoughts will be “I wish I hadn’t willingly spent so much time in stores when I was young!”. And Saturday nights? For quietly watching Netflix or reruns with my sweetie in our room. Her employer used to have Christmas parties, I used to look forward to them. It was the one night to be out with a large number of people, which to me was a good way of filling the annual quota. But they’ve not run those for a couple of years. I think the pandemic showed us there are two types of people. One type went stir-crazy and bounced off the walls counting the days til bars would re-open and they would have to shove their way through the crowds in department stores once more come December. The other had a lightbulb go on in their heads and realize “hey! There’s a lot that I can do right here at home!” Guess which category I fall into.

Several people mentioned loud noises and places. Gotcha. If I go to a bar, which is a real Whooping crane-type rarity these days, I want to be able to talk to whoever I’m with without shouting or pressing my ear upto their face. I used to go to a few concerts a year. The Stranglers, Bob Mould, both in the ’80s left my ears ringing the next morning. Now, there might be about half a dozen artists I’d think of going to see in concert and I’d be happy to be well back from the stage. Probably wearing earplugs. And movies? Turn it down, I’d be thinking…if I went out to them, which led to another suggestion “going to theaters to watch movies.”

I must admit, I thought Covid would actually bring about the death of the field of movie theaters. It hasn’t but neither is it a thriving enterprise these days. Why would it be? The reasons are pretty obvious.

First off, now most of us seem to already have a theater in the house! When I was a kid, when my parents got a 26” color TV in the late-’70s we felt like royalty. Livin’ large! Of course, that was the one TV in the house. Now? We have a 42” TV in our room and I recently saw them marked as “small TVs” in a big box store! Watching a 42” TV with stereo sound in a dark 15-foot room isn’t that much different than looking at a 30-foot screen in a 20 000-square foot auditorium. But, the floor isn’t sticky, I don’t have to eat popcorn and if I do want popcorn, I don’t have to pay $10 for a garbage bag-sized container of it, half of which will surely be thrown away. And for the $14 admittance, we can pay a month of Netflix or HBO and watch movies every night. Not to mention, the kicker – if a new movie comes out that I really want to see, it’s probably on the TV the day it hits the theaters. Gone are the days of waiting six months for a VHS tape of it to get to Blockbuster.

Another person noted “commercial radio is unlistenable.” Sadly that’s close to true too. Too little variety, too much repetition, too few people on it with personalities. I could write pages on that topic alone. In fact, I have on my music blog so I won’t bother here.

Junk Food” someone opined. Check! I was never a huge chips and candy type guy (maybe that’s why I’m not a huge guy in fact?) but the older I get the less inclined I am to want any food that comes in large bags filled with air or that is colored day-glo orange. I still enjoy a chocolate bar once in a blue moon, but for the most part, I’d rather have a salad, or a sammie (which I grant you isn’t the healthiest of snacks when if features salami and Swiss cheese , but sure is tasty and full of stuff that actually looks like food rather than a Dupont chemical tanker manifest in the ingredient list).

But that leads to my next point. Sure there’s a lot I, and many others it seems, don’t like much now that maybe we did years ago. But the flipside is true. There are things I appreciate much more. Fresh vegetables being one.

I appreciate open-minded and pragmatic people more than my firebrand 20-something version did. Especially politicians. The way to get things done isn’t to try and find the extreme zenith of any position and try to shout down everyone else until you get your way (usually soon to be reversed entirely by the next election or change of the tides). Trying to reach a compromise that everyone can live with works so much better whether it’s in the kitchen, at the grocery store, the office or Capitol Hill.

I enjoy “my” music more than I once used to. It’s a paradox, because I listen to it less. When I was young and single, I’d have the stereo on most of the time I was home. For a few years I even typically left it on at night while I slept. I would buy new music weekly.

Now, people are often at work in the house, or sleeping, or we’re watching something together. Not music time. Not so many nights do I put on CD after CD or tune the computer to a fine internet station. But… when I do, I often find myself mesmorized, continually marveling at how good some of those records I’d forgotten or once took for granted are. Soaking them in, in awe and appreciation.

I appreciate now that I can improve other people’s days. Or at least I hope to. Often the best way to feel better if you’re a bit down or stressed is to simply pretend you’re not. Which doesn’t come naturally to me, I might add, but as I get older I learn that sometimes a few good words can change the mood altogether. Just the other day I was in a large store and the cashier, a middle-aged lady looking both rushed by the previous customer and surly, rang me through, barely looking at me. Until she came across an item with A Christmas Story markings on it came up. She brightened up. “Ohh, that’s my all-time favorite Christmas movie” she exclaimed. I told her I loved it too and asked if she’d heard they were making a sequel. She had and we marveled at how little Ralphie still looks the same 30-odd years later and how we hoped it could match the charm of the original. If there hadn’t been a lineup we would have likely dissected Elf, which she volunteered was her second-favorite seasonal film. As I walked away she was grinning and made sure to wish me a fantastic day. 45 seconds, a minute, of idle chit-chat turned her day around, temporarily at least. And mine too to some degree. That in itself gave me some satisfaction I wouldn’t have cared about a few decades ago.

Mostly, I think though the older I get the more I appreciate how special, and many, the good things in my life are. I’ve had bad days, losses, as we all have but I’ve come to realize not to take things that are great – big or small – for granted. That was a message largely lost on 1990s me. Perhaps lost on any teen or 20-something. And for that, I’d say getting old isn’t a bad thing at all.

Life Is Baseball…

Life is a carnival, an old song told us. Life is like a box of chocolates, a well-loved movie suggested. Perhaps so, but to me, life is baseball.

Now, I’m a baseball fan, have been since I was a youngster…but I don’t mean to suggest that baseball is all there is to life, nor that it’s the most important thing in it. Nothing like it. But I do mean that it is the best sport to follow to teach you how to deal with life. There’s a reason so many great movies have been made about it – Bull Durham, Moneyball, 42 – they’re great because they’re about people and struggles. The goings-on on the ball diamond are the backdrop rather than the core or essence. You don’t need to have a clue what a ground rule double is to appreciate the struggles Jackie Robinson went through to make it to the Major Leagues as the first Black man in it (depicted in 42) , or understand what an unearned run is to admire how Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) went against all conventional wisdom to win in Moneyball. I can well imagine since it came out, a new manager or two at a failing store might have decided to buck the system and try all new strategies after being inspired by how Beane had done so and created a winning team against improbable odds.

Being a baseball fan teaches you math. Whole groups of computer science/mathematician nerds now work in most professional ball team front offices, because there are so many numbers to take in and make sense of. So many averages. So many ratios. My sweetie works in a call department for a large company. Often she deals with customers with billing problems. They flat out don’t understand things like averages. “Why’s my bill higher than last month? I thought it was averaged out!” But a baseball fan has an idea that if you’re batter is hitting .250, what that average means, and understands that if he goes 0-5 …has a bad game … the average will drop. They understand that a hitter who hits for a .300 average is good, one who hits .200 probably not so good. Pitcher Justin Verlander’s ERA of 1.74 this season was one of the best of his generation; Mitch White’s 7.74 with Toronto one of the worst in recent memory. Baseball fans are nodding along. Non-fans are probably thinking this sounds a lot like Greek to them. Numbers. Lots of numbers to understand baseball.

But that’s secondary. Let’s get back to that batting average. It’s a way of expressing a percentage of times a batter gets a hit. How often they succeed. And .300 is good. That’s a 30% success rate; 300 times out of 1000. A .400 average hasn’t been done over a full season in some eight decades. It’s flat out hard to swing a rounded bat and hit a ball flying in its direction at over 90MPH, and then have it not drop right into someone’s glove on top of that. To be a baseball player means to know failure, left and right. And to be a fan, if you’re not going to drive yourself utterly crazy quickly, means accepting that.

That extends out to the actual teams. Major League Baseball plays a long season with 162 regular games played by each team. The surprising thing is the amount of “parity” ; how things even themselves out over that long season. Even the really “bad” teams win – more frequently than many would guess – and the “great” teams all suffer their share of losses and heartbreaking defeats. Not so football; their shorter season and less equal talent leads to things like Miami going the entire 1972 season without a loss or Jacksonville winning just once out of 16 games in 2020. Golf, tennis, they have stars who seemingly never lose. Not so baseball. In baseball this year, Philadelphia are playing for the World Series – the finals for the championship – after winning 87 of 162 games during the regular season. A .537 winning percentage; they won about 54% of the time. If they had lost three or four more games between April and September, they’d be sitting at home waiting for next year…like players in Tampa, who won 86 games and missed the playoffs, are. You know to make the most of every game, every chance in this sport.

Take a look at the list of the past eight World Series champions : 2014 – San Francisco, 2015 – Kansas City, 2016 – Chicago, 2017 – Houston, 2018 – Boston, 2019 – Washington, 2020 – Los Angeles, 2021 – Atlanta. Eight years, eight teams, no repeat winners. It’s worth noting that Washington, the champions in ’19, had the worst record of any team this year. So enjoy your victories!

I think of this sometimes when I’m having a bad day, or when something I try for falls through. If I succeed even a third of the time, that would be a good batting average! Don’t get too down, nor for that matter too high when things go your way. But especially the former. The Philadelphia Phillies might be drinking championship champagne a week from now, and they lost 75 games this year. 75 setbacks. If your teams loses 10-0 tonight; they could just as easily win like that tomorrow. Just keep getting back out there, taking your swings, day in, day out… and you’ll get there. Savor the victories. Don’t let the strikeouts ruin your day or keep you from going back out there to give it another try..

Life is baseball.

Charitably Uncharitable ?

I don’t mean to be uncharitable…but some charities are really beginning to get my goat. To be polite about it. Which is to say, I’m all for giving but regret that I’m starting to be less forgiving of some who are asking.

A bit about me. I believe in helping out where you can, and getting behind charities and services you believe in deeply. I was raised by parents who taught me about “tithing” and it was a core value for my dad and stepmother. My dad walked the walk, giving to a range of charities and even doing hands-on work to help a local charity – a homeless shelter that also offered some counseling and education to the people who wound up there – for several years after he retired. So, ever since I was old enough to get paycheques, I’d try to give what I could. I still do and in the last couple of years, situations have changed so I could give a little more.

Personally, as regular readers here know, I’m a strong environmental advocate and organizations that try to preserve natural areas, protect wildlife and improve the environment are always front and center in my mind. But so too are the ones which help out people having hard times, often through no fault of their own. It’s a pretty sure bet I won’t walk out of a grocery store that has a Food Drive collection bin without dropping in a few cans of soup or stew, maybe some rice, cereal, peanut butter. Hospitals that help out those who can’t afford regular topnotch treatment win my approval and when I can, my dollars too, as do several medical research charities. I use Wikipedia regularly for research and love that it’s free and runs without ads (which would clutter it and possibly influence the content), so I help them out now and then.

I say that not to toot my own horn; most people I know will do what they can for the causes they believe in too and I never want to forget I’m pretty fortunate in many ways.

All that said, charities are getting a bit out of hand in my house… or mailbox. Obviously at least a good portion of the charitable causes extend their charity to sharing their list of donors with any number of other ones. This is OK… to an extent. It even makes sense in some cases. If I give to an organization that buys up natural areas to preserve, it might make sense that I’d also be interested in one which, perhaps spends money to preserve or improve existing parkland. But lately I find it’s spiraled crazily.

I’ve gotten used to getting regular mailings from organizations remotely similar to the ones I have contributed to – obscure diseases trying to spread the word on their unusual illnesses and combat them, nature clubs from all four corners of the globe, things involving libraries or literacy…you name it. I usually read over their mailing, stash away the address labels they’ve enclosed – because they always send address stickers – and divide into three groups basically. The “wow, that’s good work! I am going to do something for them right now!” pile, the “interesting, maybe at some point I’ll send them $10 or so” one and the “nah, doesn’t interest me, into the recycling bin with you” pile.

Lately though, the mailbox is getting more crammed and the requests more “out there.” I’ve had mailings from both far Left and far Right political orgs. I’ve had requests to give to fight abortion laws and ones from other groups wanting help lobbying judges and politicians to strengthen those same laws. Go figure.

All this is fine and well I suppose. I’m not obliged to help them or even spend time reading their spiel. But the limits on my patience have been sorely tested this past week. Twice, I’ve gone to the mailbox to find stuff literally jammed in there, mail bent, magazines rolled up tight. The culprit – huge, fat unsolicited mailings from charities I’d never even heard of!

I won’t specifically name them because they might both do some good and the problem I fear isn’t limited to them specifically. One was for a private school for less fortunate kids. They sent a reusable vinyl shopping bag, a calendar, a pen and various notepads. That was eclipsed a few days later by an even fatter envelope from some sort of a shelter. It had a calendar, a day book, three pens, a CD of Christmas music, notepads and welll… I don’t know what all else. I haven’t even emptied their envelope yet.

Scrunched in with the mail being squeezed by that package was another envelope from the first group, in an envelope marked “the favor of your reply is requested!” It wondered why they hadn’t heard from me with a generous gift in response to their shopping bag and other knicknacks I hadn’t requested. Now, I believe in education and improving levels of it but have never been a fan of private schools. Send everyone to the same schools, and put the saved money into making them better is my philosophy. Still, their cause did seem like it was well-intentioned, so their mailing sat in my “middle pile.” Sorry to say, after the “where’s our money?” mailing, any thoughts I might have harbored of giving them a small donation flew out the window faster than a canary who’s cage door had been opened for the first time.

Now, a couple of things come to mind about it. Including some small little gift with a request no doubt works well… for awhile. It’s basic psychology. It makes us more likely to feel positive about the giver, and I’m sure they hope, makes us feel a bit guilty if we don’t dole out. I’m OK with that, but I’m sure I’m not the only person with a whole little office drawer full of return address stickers that have pictures of everything from my initials in Gothic script to pictures of bears to children’s cartoons on them. To a point, they’re handy, but when the stack gets to be an inch thick or more, I get to thinking I’d never mail enough things to use them up if I lived to 100 years old and never left my current address.

The charities probably have thought of this themselves and have lately looked to other things they can put in an envelope we might appreciate more. Calendars are in vogue, but becoming a similar problem. For 2023, I believe I’ve kept three of the free ones and have put another half dozen or more into little free libraries in town so someone else could perhaps get some use out of them.

I give kudos to the ones I mentioned this week that came up with a CD or a reusable shopping tote; it’s creative and might be of use. But at some point, I have to wonder shouldn’t they be using more of the money coming in for the causes they promote instead of buying mass merchandise and mailing unsolicited half-pound packages to unsuspecting targets, err “prospective donors”? How many responses do they have to get back with money enclosed to even break even on their costs? And sending a snippy “where’s our gift” sort of letter three short days later seems unlikely to increase the roll call of said donors.

I have to add, I’m not all that wealthy; the sum of my giving is not huge by anyone’s account. I have to wonder what kind of barrage of requests and unwanted gifts the rich who can routinely drop $1000 cheques without a worry face everyday.

So my charitable message to these groups is this : send me a nice little note about what you do and why I might like to help you out. If I do that, then maybe send me a calendar or a notepad and do keep me in the loop with news about what you’re doing. Don’t send me pounds of unsolicited gifts that divert funds from your goals and don’t give my name and address to any old Tom, Dick or Harry organization whose goals are nothing like your own.

Is it just me? Are any of you out there starting to feel just a little uncharitable towards some charities?