Monday, August 31, 2009

Is anyone hearing the healers?

Today I ended up calling a friend of mine who I've known since we were both ten. I think in really long friendships there are times when you talk more than others, and we've been friends for three decades. We hadn't really talked much this summer.

The conversation turned to health care, partially because it's rare for me to have a conversation lately that doesn't, but also because my friend is a nurse. I think that's part of the reason I haven't really sat down to talk to her about health care reform before today. It's her livelihood, and I wasn't sure how to approach the subject with her.

We hadn't been talking long before she told me she likes my blog, particularly the posts about health care reform. That was a huge relief, and opened the door on a long conversation.

It was really fascinating to talk to someone working in the current health care system. I don't really want to get into too many details of my friend's work, because we were speaking candidly about problems within the health care system. Since it is her livelihood, I wouldn't want anything we talked about to have a negative impact upon her.

I do wish that wasn't the case, that people within the industry could speak openly, but if you work within the current system, suggesting that it needs to be changed can be perilous.

We talked about patient loads, and scheduling difficulties. The impact of red tape, and how managing health care is currently treated like managing manufacturing. We also talked about care she's received, and the burden upon the patient to keep track of all health care options. That's not quite the same as being an informed patient, by the way. We were talking about the fact that there came a point in the treatment of a chronic problem, that she found herself researching something her doctor had never suggested, or rather that had been suggested, but a nearby resource never being brought up by the doctor. She changed the scope of her treatment when she discovered this, by herself.

I wish that more health care providers could contribute to this debate, without fear of repercussion.

In the town hall meetings we've had so few health care workers contributing on either side but when I asked my friend, "Do we need a reform, or a full scale restructuring?" she answered that we need restructuring.

I was again thinking about what happened to Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in his own support of reform. This debate has become so heated, we aren't hearing from care providers. It seems that really, these people would be excellent sources of information about what really isn't working, what is, and what needs to practically be reinvented.

It's a pity that these discussions tend to happen privately because of fear of public reprisal. Since this all began, I've been thinking about health care reform every single day, and well into many of the nights.

I've talked about it here, and elsewhere, but somehow, that was the first exchange I had with someone currently in the field. After I hung up I realized something. Everyday I sort through news pieces. There have been days where aside from doing household chores, this has been all I think about. In between chores I hop on the internet, I read blogs, every article I can find. If I think about something else for four hours at a stretch, that's incredibly rare.

I realized after I hung up the phone, that I can count on the fingers of one hand, pieces I've read from doctors, nurses, medical administrators.

Aren't these the people we need to hear from, and at length?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And a goodly dose of threats

As of this morning our new tenants are moving into our former home. We managed to find people without a blip on their credit, or criminal histories. They're steadily employed, young professionals, and the new lady of the house fell head over heels in love with the place. Now there isn't much left to do other than hope for the best.

We do know a fair number of people that own rental properties, and frankly there is nary a horror story to be found in their experiences with the world of being a landlord. Nothing of a truly freaky nature has occurred to the half dozen or so people we know that own and operate rental homes. Sure, one has a story of a guy who lost his job, then had to be evicted, but that was done with a minimum of drama and fuss. Another had a tenant who left the place in shambles, but one paid cleaning crew later and the damage was undone.

So, if you're sensing that I seem very nervous about this, and thinking that it is without good reason, then settle in for the story of the worst rental property we've ever seen, and why we are so nervous. We didn't own it, no one we knew well owned it. No, we simply had the misfortune of living next to it for ten years. Most of the stories are funny in retrospect with the glaring exception of this first.

When my husband and I first lived in the house we are now renting out, it was eleven years ago. The people living in the brick bungalow next door had one child and one dog, a massive Rottweiler named Apollo. Aside from a tendency to argue with all their windows open they were easy to live next to. Sure, Apollo had an irritating habit of jumping the fence into our backyard, but I'm not afraid of dogs in general. I'd just gently call his name, he'd wag his stumpy tail and follow me back home. Once or twice I had to work my fingers into his collar and lead him home.

It was only after they moved out that we found out the couple used to have two dogs, and that Apollo had one day flipped out and killed the other dog in what was evidently the worst day the neighborhood had ever witnessed up to that point. The neighbors had never seen my habit of leading Apollo home, and nearly fainted in horror when I told them. It seems that Apollo had also bitten several people over the course of his stay there. Accidental exposure to a previously murderous Rottweiler is about the nicest story I have for that house.

There was the schoolteacher with two teenage children. She had a strange habit of marrying people she barely knew, five had come and gone by the time she moved in next to us, and the advent of the sixth potential husband caused havoc. The daughter, a bipolar, went off of her meds and ran away. Only to return in the dead of night while the teacher was off with her paramour, and the daughter began kicking in the windows to gain access. At the landlord's request, we called the police, who treated the call as a robbery in progress. Many a drawn gun and shouted curse marked that night. It was nothing compared to when the son, who had turned to dealing drugs as a means of making a living, was apprehended. We didn't make that call, we were unaware until the raid at three a.m.

The next tenants parked a backhoe in the backyard but were otherwise quiet. Until the day I looked out and saw half the Denver Police department swarming the house, again, guns drawn. I went and hid in the basement and never did find out why there was yet another raid next door. At that point, the owner of the house gave up, and sold. As much as we hoped a private owner would buy the nice, turn of the last century home, another investor bought the place.

He left it empty for five months as he refinished the basement. This became the period of my life where I was in constant touch with the landlord, and the police, as the recently uprooted homeless people (displaced from a shelter that was closed when a light rail train was installed) made many an effort to take up residence there. That started with my looking out of my office window on the Saturday of the Easter weekend, and glimpsing a man I thought might be Grizzly Adams. It ended with yet another raid four weeks later, in which about thirty homeless people were rousted from the backyard where they had burrowed in like ticks.

Then came the group of young men who had the Halloween party that was announced on the radio, unbeknown to them, or so they claimed. Three full-size Greyhound tour buses disgorged a group of two hundred or so revelers in costumes. The house had two bathrooms. That was the night we spent hours chasing clowns, witches, zombies and gargoyles from our property, many of whom were busy urinating on it. When we were lucky, that is. Someone dressed as Vampire took a night long nap on our front yard, complete with pillow, and pool of vomit. We did call the police, but only after someone responded to my husband, trying to evict the man from peeing on our rosebushes, by saying, "Hey man, aren't you going to let me finish?"

New Year's Day a year later featured me finding a fully packed bong, on my front porch, with a ceramic, evil clown head as the base. That was the day I went over and did the dance of rage on the front porch next door, after smashing Bozo, the Evil Clown Bong to smithereens. That was the day I found out that, gee, with enough incentive? I could actually gibber with pure fury.

There are rental properties sprinkled throughout that neighborhood, but it's actually a quiet, good neighborhood. To give you an idea, houses usually sell from anywhere from 250k well into the 300s. We didn't live in Denver's equivalent of Hell's Kitchen (which is Five Points, and we didn't live there). We lived in an otherwise drowsy, residential neighborhood. No one had stories like we ended up having thanks to that house.

That's only half of the nightmarish things that occurred. One tenant was stalked horribly by a man who was apprehended with a knife in between our two houses. It was the house of bad mojo for five of the ten years and then there was the geophysicist who ushered in the age of silence next door. He was decidedly weird, and made everyone nervous, but he was blessedly quiet. After him came two separate families, both markedly sane and quiet. A new era had begun.

This might have had something to do with the fact that I had finally had enough, and threatened the owner next door with every type of legal action you can possibly imagine, including bringing the housing department down on him when the Bozo incident happened. We are not litigious people by nature, but we had had more than enough. Between my volcanic anger, and my husband's assurances that we'd be happy to make a hobby out of suing him if he didn't start screening his tenants more thoroughly, he finally saw the wisdom of leaving the house empty until he found suitable tenants, as opposed to renting to anything vaguely upright. The entire neighborhood was crawling all over that man in their spare time. This may have had something to do with the fact that I passed around his phone numbers, complete with his work contact. To gain some peace himself, he finally extended some towards our neighborhood.

To put it very mildly, our bad experiences with rentals had left us leery. The people we rented to were lectured up and down about not having large parties. That there would never be any need for any of the neighbors to hunt us down, they all know us personally, and have all of our contact numbers. Anything untoward, and they would feel free to call us.

They must really love the house because they were fine with that. It is a lovely house, by the way, and they seem very pleased with it. They're avid rock climbers from out of state, and assured us that they only know three people in town, but aren't the partying types anyway. We talked to all of their references, and they had a goodly number.

We'll see, right? We can only hope. Or in my husband's case, threaten a bit. When he told them that all of the neighbors know us both, and wouldn't hesitate to call us, this is what he said:

"And make no mistake, we'll care. We will rain down on you like the Last Days of Pompeii."

The new tenants laughed. Nervously.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The best and the worst we contain

Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy has died, I'm sure you're all aware of that. Every news site on the internet is reporting this, as are the TV news programs. Yahoo's piece didn't mention Chappaquiddick, at all. CNN's piece only made a vague reference to it.

Is it because we hesitate to speak ill of the dead? I don't think that should be the case, particularly in this instance.

Ted Kennedy lived a life of long public service. He was a champion of liberal causes, a complicated man, from a notoriously complicated family with a tragic history.

Chappaquiddick cost him his shot at the presidency, but then, it should have. Although I have always believed that Ted Kennedy did try to save Mary Jo Kopechne, I don't think he was ever honest about why she was in his car in the first place. Also, when he failed to save her, he did try to run away, he did try to cover it up. As a young woman's body began to decay underneath that water, he did not think of her family, and their grief. He did not think of the dignity her body deserved. He thought of no one but himself, and his ambitions.

He tried to save his political career, and he lied. He didn't kill her purposefully, but his act of cowardice would forever taint him in a way the accident never could have, had he stepped forward, and done the right thing willingly.

What a career he had. He helped many people, he served in the senate. He didn't turn away from public service even knowing that he had damned himself to being the Kennedy who would be the "also ran" forever.

In other words, he acted with cowardice and in a grasping manner, then he proceeded to atone over the course of many decades.

We don't need to cover up Chappaquiddick today, or feel that to mention it is a disservice to a man who proved himself capable of great things in the long run.

He was very human. He was very flawed. He earned his forgiveness through thought and deed. Consider the man in full, and truly recognize him for the good he did. When contrasted with a terrible moment of cowardice, what is the greater measure?

The best he contained, not the worst. We all have the worst in us. It's all right to speak of Ted Kennedy's worst, today. He did a terrible thing, and lost his shot. His life of public service was about just that. Long after he understood that his misdeed would forever keep him from the highest office in the land, he continued.

The Kennedy family has a strange, awesome, and in some ways, terrible history and legacy.

In the final analysis, Ted Kennedy was admirable, and he did atone. As we would all hope to, for whatever wrongs we have perpetrated.

Rest in peace, and thank you for the good you did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive Entertaining

I watch real estate shows. I store them up on my Tivo and watch them while working out, or futzing around the kitchen, or frankly, with my butt parked firmly on the couch. I like houses, I've always liked houses. From Buy Me to House Hunters through to My House is Worth What? all the way into renovation shows, I watch them. We renovated the living daylights out of our last house, and eventually we're likely to do the same here.

In my channel travels I've noticed something, and it leads to my question: Just how much are other people entertaining?

If I take HGTV at their word, barely a moment passes in the lives of nearly everyone but me between actually having parties, preparing for guests, or planning out the next shindig. Prospective buyers never glimpse a kitchen without referencing how a specific kitchen either would benefit entertaining, or would preclude it. Everyone wants an open kitchen so as to be able to talk to their guests, while entertaining, of course. They don't want to be isolated while cooking.

This has led me to believe that, as difficult as it is to accept, we must be a family of Hermits in Training, Recluses in the Making and Borderline Anti-Socials because whereas we have guests from time-to-time, a busy year for us would be two dinner parties. We have plenty of years that go by with only one, and thus far this year? Not a one. We were sort of busy looking for a new house, moving into the new house, and now completing the necessary painting and decorating. When we have spare time? We nap, or collapse, in gratitude, no less.

We're invited places, but we're as likely to pass on an invitation as we are to accept one, depending on the weekend. We tend to have a couple, or a person over for dinner, rather than throw full scale parties.

HGTV would have us believe that we're nearly freakish because of this. When we bought this house one of our concerns was not how well the kitchen, family room, and dining room would benefit entertaining, but how much we liked them. Our vast living room remains empty at this moment, because we still need to furnish the cavernous thing. If we had guests over right now, they'd get a lot of practice standing.

That's kind of a good thing because whoever designed the layout for this place never threw a party in their lives. The butler's pantry and the dining room have the kitchen in-between them, which amuses me to no end. Here you traverse one hall that sports the butler's pantry, take a turn through the kitchen, and then access the dining room through a separate door. I guess this is meant to allow your guests a full tour when you set up a buffet? Or perhaps the builder wanted to insure that in the boundless entertaining fever that has gripped the nation, you should still make sure to get plenty of exercise. Take a lap with that glass of wine.

Maybe we're just a family of homebodies. Or maybe I'm just deeply odd because I don't want to interact with guests while I'm cooking, I want them out from under foot so that I don't spectacularly ruin whatever the heck I'm making. Cooking as a spectator sport baffles me, and I've been cooking for a long time. I'm also a pretty darned good cook, but if you want to see me surly in the kitchen? Get in the way while I'm cooking. It's not like I'll start hitting people with spatulas, but if I have my preference, I don't like to add milling people to gas stove stops, sharp knives, and quick movements. I want to be isolated to avoid the need for medical intervention for anyone, me included.

The thing is, I suspect that my husband and I, while both having a well developed sense of enjoying each others company, and our own, really aren't quite the shut-in, anti-socials that HGTV would have us believe. I think people make more claims to entertaining than exist in actuality.

Sure, we've all known that person who throws a party at the drop of a hat, and loves doing it. Someone who really loves having lots of people over, and thrives on the hubbub of a houseful. For the most part, I think people do what we do, have people over once in a great while and enjoy that.

At least I hope so. I may be wrong. After all, every neighbor I've met here comments on how quiet we are compared to the previous owners. They entertained a lot, evidently. Barely a weekend went by without a backyard BBQ and pool party.

There is, however, a reason I think that most people entertain infrequently.

Every person that has commented on our relative quietness has sounded vastly relieved by the change. Entertain a great deal and you will have the approbation of HGTV. Spend a lot of time reading, and quietly going about your business, and you'll be a lot more popular with your neighbors. Or so it seems.

Maybe everyone else is entertaining. I don't know. We like peace, and quiet, occasionally venturing out, or inviting others in.

Party on, and entertain if that's your preference. Every now and then it's mine, too.

But, and this is just a guess, I think that HGTV might be trying to sell us a bill of goods when it comes to the entertaining craze.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Rational Voice from the Other Side

I suppose it couldn't be more obvious that I am a supporter of health care reform. Although, in all honesty, I still don't know if I am a supporter of this particular approach to health care reform. We definitely have a broken health care system, that's for sure, but how to go about fixing it?

Here is an excellent piece opposing the current plan, and detailing exactly why. Marcian Angell, in a piece from the Huffington Post. Clearly I like the Huffington Post, but I do look to other sources. A sampling from the article:

So it's crucial to ask just why we are spending so much more than other countries. Where is all that money going? Yet, that question is seldom asked in the current debate, even though it's not logical to try to fix something without understanding why it's broken.

I'm putting this here because it was one of the few pieces opposing the current approach to health care reform that doesn't descend into histrionic hyperbole at any point. Unlike many arguments of the opposition this piece is not seeking to frighten people into fleeing from health care reform.

It also mentions the thing my husband and I talk about frequently, which is expanding the boundaries of eligibility for Medicaid.

I agree with a great deal from Angell's piece. It also brings up other countries in an appropriate manner. Why do they have lower overhead? Simply put, they don't treat health care as a for-profit endeavor.

In this debate it is important to carefully consider both sides of the argument. This piece does so without trying to scare anyone witless, without engaging in conspiracy theories, and without suggesting that we're doing swell as we are (because that would be a falsehood of smoldering pants proportions).

I do realize that in many ways this is a more radical approach to reform. We have a situation that may need a tourniquet, and we aren't going to be able to fix it with a bandage, no matter how attractively packaged. We have to start somewhere, maybe it is with Obama's plan even if it is a temporary fix, while we work on the other issues that come with treating health care like a money maker.

I suspect a balance between the two is needed. We have to fix this situation, and it really can't wait for the perfect solution to get the process started. Perhaps Obama's reform combined with a targeted committee to bring health care costs down.

If we do one without the other, the situation will continue to worsen. Marrying the two approaches may be our best bet.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Woman Who Terrified America

In our ongoing debate about health care the term "Death Panels" took root and grew a strange, cancerous life of its own. The woman credited, or more accurately, the person who should be blamed, for spawning that furor is a woman named Betsy McCaughey. Among other things she's the former Lt. Governor of New York State and the current Chairmen of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths to the House Committee on Government Oversight Reform. Quite a mouthful, right?

She never used the term "Death Panel", by the way. We have politicians to thank for that choice of words. Still, she claims that there are plans to euthanize the elderly. Yes, if you think that you are going to be forced to put your grandmother to sleep in the same manner you bid your beloved pet goodbye? Betsy McCaughey is the person responsible for introducing that fear into your life.

She's been making the interview rounds of late. Defending herself, claiming that her interpretation of the nearly infamous page 432 is correct. Lugging out an impressively sized folder with her wherever she goes. It's a pity she thinks the term "life sustaining" is interchangeable with "life ending", isn't it? She's got a PhD but somehow I'm thinking that her second grade report card probably mentioned that she struggles with reading comprehension. Ay yi yi.

Yesterday she was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If by some chance you don't know who Jon Stewart is, or what The Daily show is, very briefly, he's a comedian and The Daily Show is a satirical news show. He's a satirist with a decidedly liberal bent. I like him tremendously, and enjoy his humor.

Every now and then he takes on an issue that is rather serious in nature, such as his much publicized battle with Jim Kramer.

If the subject matter was not so incredibly serious the interview with McCaughey would have been hilarious. She desperately fumbles to find page 432 in her oft-toted prop. She sees the word "mandatory" where it doesn't exist. She tries desperately to ingratiate herself with an audience increasingly
taken aback by her bizarre scrambling.

All that could be put down to not being very comfortable on camera, right? I mean, let's be fair, not everyone spends their days being filmed. In McCaughey's case, of late, she has spent a fair amount of time being interviewed and everywhere she goes she lugs her accusatory binder. I guess it never occurred to her that someone would finally say, "Show me where it says that."

Here's a link to The Daily Show's homepage, if you missed last night's show, it's currently featured. Here's a link to the site that will give Canadians access to the same footage.

If you don't have time to watch it, or you don't have the inclination, that's completely understandable. It's fairly lengthy in the unedited version, and it is incredibly strange. This is the person who has helped shape so many views on health care reform?

I'm putting it here because this woman's interpretation of page 432 is one of the reasons that politicians on the conservative side are trying to convince us that there are Death Panels to be convened.

I can't even kindly term what Betsy McCaughey does as being a radical interpretation of the text. It's a dangerous, willful misinterpretation.

Yes, she's very scattered, and it is rather amusing. What isn't funny is that she's one of the reasons people are crying, and sobbing their way through Town Hall Meetings. There are other sources but the buck started with McCaughey and it's rather difficult to escape that she is, in the kindest interpretation I can think up, pulling a Chicken Little.

She's also the person who wrote this piece completely misrepresenting Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel's words. By the time he had a chance to offer this rebuttal in Time much of the damage had been done.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wrong move, PETA: At least "seakitten" was cute

Upfront: I eat meat. I didn't for about ten years, but as I was the only person in my family interested in being a vegetarian and I am the main cook in the family, it simply wasn't working out. Sure, I could have forced my family to not eat meat at home, but I can't make my husband's choices for him, nor should I try. Besides, I was a vegetarian because it is one way to address world hunger.

We compromised. We have three meatless meals a week and I buy cruelty free poultry, and grass fed beef.

PETA has done some things I actually admire. It was through their work that wearing fur became about the least cool thing you could do. They've helped animals the world over, and protected many from the threat of being hunted into extinction. PETA has also helped bring a lot of attention to animal testing in the cosmetic industry, and I also buy cruelty free products. My awareness of this is due specifically to PETA's efforts.

Although I believe in the food chain, I don't think there's any excuse for cruelty to animals, even if they are a food source. I've got no great love of chickens, but neither do I wish to have them tortured so that I can have some poultry. I do eat meat, but PETA is one of the reasons I ended up paying a lot attention to the source of that.

In recent years PETA has gotten a little bit peculiar, wanting to have fish called seakittens, for instance. Hey, no matter how much I rolled my eyes at that one, it brought more attention to their cause, and even if someone doesn't adopt a vegetarian, or vegan lifestyle, they end up finding out more about unnecessary animal testings, etc. Even if people are glancing in their direction because of, "Hey, look over here! We're being really weird, check it out!"

Sometimes their ad campaigns are really quite neat. I liked the campaign that dressed models and actors in vegetables and fruits. That was very well done.

This time I think they really screwed up. This article at the Huffington Post discusses the current campaign. Note: embedded link within the article leading to an Onion piece is Not Safe For Work.

Hey PETA, you got me to support a lot of cruelty-free practices. I stopped buying brands of shampoo, or face creams, or anything that involved animal testing. You made me care about animal cruelty. Well done. However, you shouldn't be cruel to people to promote your cause. People have feelings and can be hurt by words and images.

Obesity is a crisis in many countries. I'm fortunate in that I have never struggled with it personally. My mother-in-law has, so have two of my sister-in-laws. One of my closest friends battles against it in her life also. Article after article discusses the Obesity Crisis. A person with a weight issue can barely pick up a magazine, or turn on the TV without finding a piece on it. Lifestyle choices do play a part, and it would benefit people to eat better, exercise and take good care of themselves, but none of that should be focused on how they will look in a bikini.

When we make weight about superficial factors, we're only making the problem worse because it focuses on the surface: trying to curry societal acceptance. Feeling as if you don't is one of the huge contributing factors in obesity.

I grant you at least they used a cartoon image, but that still doesn't let them off the hook.

I frequently admire PETA in their dogged pursuit but this time their attempts to make people care about animals, and their ability to feel pain is inflicting pain on people already struggling with a lot of it. PETA would never sanction kicking a dog, but they just aimed a foot in the direction of obese people.

Badly done, PETA. Very badly done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Like Memories of Woodstock and Other Slippery Things

I awoke this morning with a conversation I had with my husband about a year ago foremost in my mind.

"Don't worry about it," I told my husband as he allowed the hot water to run cold, in order to fill an ice tray, " maybe hot water really does freeze faster."

I was joking, a bit punchy from all the work we were trying to get done. We were having guests that night and performing the ritual of trying to make certain we had enough ice available. Since we'd never hooked up our automatic ice maker, we always did this particular dance. For two days we'd try to make as much ice as humanly possible, then at the last minute we'd dash out to buy a bag of the stuff. It's strange the patterns we follow, at times.

"You've heard that, too?" He asked, and relief was evident in his tone."I'm glad I'm not the only person who believed that one."

The tale unfolded. Back in college my husband had a roommate who was quite bright, as is my husband. In fact, my husband has always been more interested in the various sciences than I have been. It seems that one night Rob, the aforementioned husband, had stated the old, "Hot water freezes more quickly than cold." in front of this particular roommate, and this man, who I'll call Ned, practically laughed himself into a brain bleed, then proceeded to call my husband an idiot, and explain at great length why this wasn't in the least true. Rob, chastened, and a bit embarrassed never forgot the moment, and he also became convinced he was wrong.

At the end of his story, rather surprised that I knew this and he did not, I chimed in again. "But honey, hot water does freeze more quickly than cold, depending on the conditions."

We trotted off to the Internet and confirmed that with several reputable sources. Now, those conditions do not happen to be present in your home freezer, but there is truth at the root of it. The only reason I had known that was because years earlier I'd worked with a group of environmental engineers, several of whom were meteorologists and the subject came up at length back then. I'd been surrounded by a group of seven people or so. They gathered up as much proof to bolster their respective points as they could and the conversation went on for quite a while. Meanwhile, I was nearly dead from boredom but I still managed to absorb, quite thoroughly, that dependent on conditions? Hot water can freeze more quickly than cold.

I also learned to leave the room when they started in with their fact-fest-orama. It was a frequent occurrence. Boy, could I tell you some stuff about Ambient Air Standards. It's worn into my brain like a groove. It is, without exception, incredibly dull, so I'll spare you. My apologies to you if you happen to be an environmental engineer, I'm sure you're personally fascinating. Really.

Now my husband is no shrinking violet, by the standards of anyone. He's 6'4", for starters, and he's a searingly intelligent man. Still, he'd allowed himself to be convinced he was wrong by someone with an assertive manner. By the time we had that conversation twenty years had passed between his roommate convincing him of something that was only in part, true. I was very surprised that it had happened at all.

"I really want to call Ned and give him a piece of my mind." Rob fumed. He isn't prone to backing down, and two decades later finding out that he hadn't really needed to rankled.

"Go for it, honey." I said, ready to ride in with the support cavalry.

"Well, the last time I saw Ned he chased me with a golf club."

"Okay, so maybe don't call him." And I then understood why my husband had backed down. I remembered who Ned was. He was the roommate that was obsessed with the novel American Psycho, among other charming things. Best to let sleeping crazies lie.

However, haven't we all done that? Listened to someone with an assertive manner (and possibly an arsenal of madness), allowed ourselves to be convinced by someone speaking with authority, yet without checking the facts?

Apocryphal tales abound. Lady Astor and Winston Churchill's famous tea exchange is one such tale. Did it happen? Historians are convinced it did not, but if you run a search right now, you'll come up with sites that put it forth as fact. It likely isn't but it certainly seems like it should be, doesn't it? George Washington and the Cherry Tree is another moment that is flatly made up, but I remember the first time I heard it, in school, oddly enough. I went home at the great age of nine or so, and proudly told my father about it. Have I mentioned that my father was a historian? One with many degrees? Yeah, that was a long conversation. Marie Antoinette never said anyone should chow down on cake, or any other sort of pastry. In fact that one is actually rather unfair to the actual person, but that's neither here nor there.

The fortieth anniversary of Woodstock has been getting a lot of press of late. Lots of people coming forward with their memories and photographs. Phrases like, "it was a great time of change" and "you could feel the love in the air" are trotted out. Hey, maybe that's true in part but I think we all know there's a little bit of editing and polishing going on in the minds of people who actually attended. I received an email from a friend whose mother was there, and to her surprise, spotted herself in a photograph in a magazine spread. Her memories of Woodstock were less glowing, it seems, and that fits with the people I've met who were there. Words like "dirty" "crowded" and "smelly" don't define Woodstock. They shouldn't. It was only a part of the entire thing.

So clearly my point is about the health care debates, again. Some more. The thing is almost everything I named above is a harmless misrepresentation, or half truth. If you believe that Paul Revere's part in history really involved that famous ride, it is not an injurious belief. However, if you believe at this point that you know everything there is to know about health care reform? Well, you can't. Not right now. It also is proving to not be harmless. People are showing up with guns at some of these town hall meetings.

It's also not our fault that things have come to this. President Barack Obama played his part in encouraging people to react before all the facts are in. Treating something as weighty as health care reform like a movie trailer, and inviting people to discuss it before presenting the actual document was not, to my mind, the best approach. It is that, it isn't this, etc. It's like he's busily cutting our meat for us, trying to make sure we deal with one bite-sized piece at a time.

Maybe he didn't have a choice. After all, politician from both sides have treated this like a bunch Carnival Barkers, running around, spouting slogans, soundbites, and sometimes outright lies. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ms. "in honor of the American soldier, why don't you stop making things up!" Palin. Heed your own words, lady.

It's just in the last few days I've noticed something. It seems that people are so convinced of certain aspects of health care reform, that they have begun to believe they've reviewed it in full. Or rather, that it is possible to have done so at this point in time. This became such a common occurrence that I spent hours searching the Internet, convinced that somehow the information must be out there, in full. After all, seemingly everyone has seen it but me! I might as well have been eating cake.

Also, let's only briefly touch on how internationally embarrassing this has become. I live near a man from Sweden, and I tend to be the sort of person who makes friends with people from other countries, both here and in the real world.

I ran into him while getting the mail, and we chatted.

"No antibiotics? People say we have no antibiotics." He was pretty distressed, actually. "People don't believe that, do they?"

Oh how I wanted to tell him that they did not. The same thing goes with stories about Canada, or the UK, or France. Somebody hears a snippet, or reads a story of "My cousin was from Canada, he broke his leg! He had to cross the border just to have it set!!" Uh huh. Sure. I have no clue what that junk is about but chances are if that happened there's a key piece (or a dozen) of information missing. Maybe the cousin was an idiot, for one thing. Or a felon on the run. Or the blue fairy made flesh, for all I know. It doesn't matter because if you can't suss out on your own that there's a hole in that story big enough to drive a fleet of Uhauls through, I can't help you. I'm willing to believe there may have been a cousin, some cousin, of some person, somewhere. I'm further willing to believe that this cousin likely had legs but that's the extent of what I'm willing to believe.

I think we all need to wait until we have more information, but that clearly isn't going to happen. The media isn't going to let it. None of our political parties seem to be willing to choose a wait and see, either.

So it's up to us. We've got a lot of people pulling our strings right now. Do I support health care reform? Yes I do, In theory. Do I support this particular reform? I don't know yet.

By the way, two things. I glossed over something above. "Let them eat cake." there was harm in that, even though it may not have been a contemporary belief. If you look at the laundry list of things of which Marie Antoinette was accused, some pretty outrageous falsehoods are on that list. For political reasons they were compiled, some more true than others, some made up out of whole cloth, as an excuse to execute the lady. Believing apocryphal tales can be very harmful. We should probably keep that in mind, and remember that there is a reason both sides might want us to believe things designed to inflame our sense of outrage and make us decide before we are in possession of all facts.

The second thing is on behalf of my neighbor: Sweden both has, and makes use of antibiotics. Really. On this one thing I'm begging you to take my word for it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Greetings, salutations!

Since I've established that I'm likely to be around for a bit, I thought I should include a picture with my user profile. However, it seems exceedingly tiny, and just gives the impression of a white dot, with dark hair. So, I thought I'd at least enlarge it this one time. Prove that I have features, and everything.

If you happen to be a Battlestar Galactica fan you may be thinking, "Wait, that looks like the set of Baltar's cult...and she's holding something with Gaius Baltar's image on it, what the...?"

Yes, that is the set, and yes, that is what I'm holding. Longish story, tends to be about as interesting as the explanation of my user name.

Essentially, that's where I was when the picture was taken.

Edited: Let's see if I can add another one. One that is more indicative of how I generally look. There's a story with this one though. This spring my husband came home with a gag gift for me, a Snuggie. I was in gales of laughter because there's something hilarious about the concept of trying to make watching TV less strenuous.

So my husband and I proceeded to take pictures of me in a Snuggie. The Snuggie has since gone on to be donated to a charity, but this is a lot more indicative of how I generally look. No makeup, hair a mess.

That way Philip won't be frightened by me any longer! Or perhaps he'll be far more frightened.

Whittling: Not just for logs any longer!

It's been nearly five hundred years since Juan Ponce de León y Figueroa went searching for the mythic fountain of youth, hoping to find it in what is now Florida. One presumes that he found a lot of humidity, and if the current day insect residents of that state are any indication, bugs the size of Shetland Ponies greeted him. I've seen some of the swamps in Florida, and even our youth obsessed nation might think a few crow's feet were preferable to taking a dunk in them. Then again, the latest craze in wrinkle reduction favors synthetic snake venom which people have injected into their bodies, so in reality we'd probably hop atop a ravenous 'gator covered in barbecue sauce if we thought it would shave off a few years.

I myself am a complete sucker for "essential soy brighteners". Also, I've seldom met a fruit acid I wasn't willing to slap on my face. I haven't ventured out into the sun without sunblock in a little more than a decade, and I've found myself willing to consume pretty much anything, no matter dreadful it actually tastes, if there is a promise of antioxidants in it for me. I'm thinking specifically of Acacia berries. Once while wincing my way through a small glass of juice, it occurred to me, "This tastes like liquid evil, what am I doing?" and that was the last time Acacia and I crossed paths.

So really, I'm not claiming to be any better than anyone else when it comes to vanity. I happily shell out my fair share of disposable income on lotions, potions, creams and a current trend towards anything that comes in a form guaranteed to peel me.

I don't even let the knowledge that none of these potions have yet to actually deliver deter me in any way, shape, or form.

But I draw the line at slicing and dicing my person. What surprised me is that recently it has become something of a trend with people I actually know. Not actors paid to maintain a specific appearance, friends of mine. I'm not blaming them, but whereas I will buy just about any jar, or tube, alleged to have youthful properties contained within, the fact of the matter is I'm happy with my appearance. I tend to buy cosmetic creams because I like them. Some people like jewelry, some shoes or clothes. I like little jars of things.

When a friend two years my senior informed me over lunch that she had decided to get her eyes and lips done, I was surprised, but not dismayed. When another friend, again close to my age, said she was looking into a "mini lift" I couldn't help but wonder what she was going to have lifted to where because gravity wasn't exactly her foe, she looked great. She clearly didn't think so.

Now both of those friends look perpetually surprised, and not so very slightly alarmed, but assure me that it takes a while to break in. I wouldn't quite say either looks younger precisely, but they do look different, at least for right now. However, who can't sympathize with the desire to halt time?

Still, there is a point of fixation with an exterior problem, real or wholly imagined. When I turned on a TV morning program recently I saw a story about a woman of 47. She confessed that she had spent money on trainers, ages on stair machines, hours on racquetball courts and not an insubstantial amount of time enduring, "emotional pain and suffering" because she felt she had cankles. If you are wondering what a cankle might be, evidently it is when a person doesn't have much definition between calf and ankle.

So this woman then plunked down eight thousand dollars to have her ankles more or less whittled. No kidding. She gave a bubbly interview about how now her world was sunnier or something, her confidence restored, etc. etc. "Hey, now that I no longer have this flaw, that really only ever existed in my head in terms of importance, I feel less like jumping off a bridge to escape my own self-perceived hideousness." was the gist. I didn't know whether to laugh long and loud, or think the poor woman a hug because guess what? Yeah, no cankles for starters, and then no perceptible difference after surgery. If she'd literally burned eight thousand dollars, at least she would have been actually warm for a moment or two. As it was she spent eight grand on solving a problem that only she ever saw. This likely means she'll start seeing another one soon, it seems to me.

We all want to feel attractive, but it seems like the excessive focus on exteriors hasn't accomplished that. Not even close.

The more we focus, nay fixate, on our looks it seems the more we are convinced that we are deeply unattractive. Also, if current trends on the Internet are any indication, it seems people in general are more likely to find physical fault in those they see also. I've stumbled across some really unkind remarks about absolutely beautiful actors and actresses. It seems no one is beautiful enough by our current estimations.

What's the solution? I'm not sure. Maybe we need to change what we say to each other, and to ourselves. Maybe that's a good place to start.

Whoever you are: You are worth much more than your packaging. That's all your exterior is. Also, do yourself a favor, if you are having a moment of feeling like you aren't attractive? Go and grab a photograph of yourself from ten years ago. Chances are you'll take one look at it and say, "Wow, I can't believe how thin/young/fit/good I look!"

Then pretend that today is ten years from now, go look in the mirror, and judge yourself as you would a decade from now. When you'd be willing to see yourself for your positive attributes, not as a list of faults.

Also, don't plan on whittling anything on your person, please. Pretty much ever. Trust me on that one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Face of the Enemy?

It's going to come as no shock that the young man featured in the attached photograph is, in fact, my son. Cute, right? I'll take it as read that you think so too, so as not to put any of us in an awkward position.

He's a nice person, he's got a sunny disposition. He's not one of those surly teens. He walks around with a ready smile, has very good manners, and aside from the fact that his room looks like London after the Blitz on a very regular basis, he's a good egg. He worried that he was hurting every fish he caught last month, on his fishing trip with my husband. He ended up taking one of his cooked catches over to the campsite of a high school science teacher, there with his AP class in tow, as thanks for the opportunity to look through the high powered telescope the group had. He starts college next week, actually. Here's hoping that goes well, right?

The other thing about my son is that for the rest of his life he's going to have a preexisting condition. You've probably been taught to fear the name of it, and to associate it with spiraling health care costs, as well as suspect lifestyle choices. When the blame game gets going, it's always brought up. My son is a diabetic. A Type 1 diabetic and he is insulin dependent. There is a lot of forward motion in research but for right now he has a lifelong condition. He didn't do anything to earn it. In fact, the cause of Type 1 diabetes isn't easily pigeon-holed. There is no genetic link in our family. It might have been an injury that caused his pancreas to fail, or it might have been a virus. It could have been a recessive gene, truthfully, we don't know how it happened. He started insulin in December 2008, so he's actually quite lucky, he started dealing with this when he was old enough to understand it.

I hesitated to bring this up because I thought that as soon as people understood that I might have personal reasons for my stand on health care, it might be easy to dismiss my opinions because one might think they were based on my feelings, first and foremost. Truthfully, we all make up our minds based on our feelings, at different times. Certainly there are instances where detachment rules the day, and the rule of law is put into play, but for the most part, we believe what we believe about any given issue based on our feelings. What feels right to us, what feels important. We do not approach life dispassionately, nor should we.

I've never had a problem with our health care insurance. I didn't spend hours on the phone with them when my son was diagnosed. We were lucky, our insurance company didn't try to drop him, or question his treatment. My son goes to one of the best Diabetes research centers in the United States, the Barbara Davis Center.

I've been a supporter of establishing universal health care since Bill Clinton took a run at it in the 1990s. My support is not born of the fact that my son is one of the people who needs to have health care available to him at all times. That's just one of the things that happened in between then and now. Aside from that, simply because we know that my son needs to have health care available at all times, that doesn't make him any different from any of the rest of us. We all need to have available health care. It's life and death for all of us, not just the smiling fisherman up there.

We're fortunate people, the expense of his diabetes hasn't been something that has preyed on our minds. We're very grateful that it hasn't been a determining factor in anything having to do with his treatment.

At present in the United States a debate rages about what kind of obligation we have to our citizens. Is it worth paying for public health? Are there benefits? Is there a moral imperative? Will we change the essential nature of our country if we take steps to have a public health care option?

For me there are some personal reasons at play in why I so adamantly support the need for universal health care. At least there are now. I had no way of anticipating that there would be.

We need to structure a system that is financially feasible, but the need for the system to be in place isn't about the fact that my son has diabetes. It's about the fact that all of us need to have access to health care. It is a basic obscenity of our society that I sit here and type out the words, with gratitude mind you, that our health care insurance didn't raise a stink about keeping my son alive.

Health should not be a privilege of wealth, but it is at present in our country. Is that equality?

We don't attach a mental picture to those that need health care, but fail to have it. At present my son is covered, but what happens when he is no longer a full time student and is no longer eligible to be carried on our health insurance? When he walks around with his lifelong condition, termed preexisting, will the capricious insurance industry decide that he is not financially feasible and refuse him?

They shouldn't have the right, yet they do. The thing is, I'm really not talking about my son. I'm talking about everyone because there is no way for any of us to know what will happen between now and then.

I know I'm pounding a drum here, but as I watch footage of people sobbing their way through Town Hall Meetings, screaming that their country has changed in some fundamental manner, I'm struck by the fact that people are paralyzed with fear, yet they are fearing the wrong thing.

We fear change, but what is really frightening is the concept that things will remain the same as they are now.

Clearly the affable young man pictured here is not the enemy. If you're going to fear him, you might as well fear Care Bears. In fact, in this situation no one is the enemy. We, as citizens of the United States, are guaranteed certain rights.

I'm not talking about my son when I say that health as a privilege of wealth must end as a way of life. I'm talking about me, you, all of us.

When did we become comfortable with an insurance company being the masters of our fate? To my mind, that is a lot more frightening than change. We are at the whim of an industry that views us not as people, with guaranteed rights and worth simply in our being, but as profit margins.

An industry in which we have no say.

Yet people are frightened by the concept of government being involved in health care. The government, in which we always have a say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pry Open the Doors

I don't really like to discuss politics in an online setting. I think inflection is an important part of serious discussions, for one thing. For another, I don't really think anyone has the right to tell anyone what to think on any given subject. Still, every now and then something is important enough to address.

One of the more interesting classes I took back in the day was An Introduction to Social Anthropology, it's not a field of study I pursued, but it was an interesting class and the woman teaching it had an engaging manner. On the first day of class, after all the formalities of establishing that we were in the right place at the right time (incidentally, as always happened several people seemed to stunned to find out where they were, and promptly left), she said something that stayed with me:

"The biggest challenge you will face in this class is not the course work, or the reading. The biggest challenge you will face is trying to think in something other than absolutes. The role of social anthropology is not to judge, but to understand. If you keep an open mind, you will learn more about the world around you, and have a greater understanding of the people in it."

Then she began to teach. I don't know how many students in the classroom were really listening as she gave her canned opening speech, but I happened to be one of them. I was also busy fiddling with my roommate's tape recorder, since I needed to record the lecture for her, as she was briefly out of town. That's how I ended up hearing that opening multiple times. I dutifully recorded the class, and gave the tape to my roommate. She listened to it repeatedly because of a sound quality problem, but that happened to be a clearly recorded passage. I must have heard it a dozen times and it stuck with me.

So did Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken when she had to memorize it for a class, which she chose to do aloud, for what seemed two solid months. For years my eye practically started to twitch whenever I heard Frost's name, and like some upright version of Pavlov's Dog I'd begin, " Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood..." but that's a different story.

The advice of that long ago teacher was very solid, and applies to more than just a class. If we keep an open mind, and embrace the possibility that we are misinformed to start, there is much to learn and understand in this world. That the world doesn't end when and if we admit that we have more to learn, or find ourselves to be wrong. There is no sin in being wrong. Nothing crumbles if we change our minds, and who knows, it is possible that as we find out more, we may discover that our first inclination was correct.

That teacher was encouraging students to start from a neutral space when approaching what we were to learn. I have to admit, although it was only an introductory class, I did learn about customs in other places that gave me pause, and sometimes shocked and appalled me. I had to work to set that aside, and sometimes I wasn't successful. Seeing merit in other cultures was sometimes a challenge.

By far the most interesting material in the class had to do with social structures in our country, in our own society. The history of gender relations was the thing that interested me the most, and that is something I chose to keep learning about.

I'm bringing this up because at present it is almost impossible to turn on the news, or to log online without seeing evidence of the recent Town Hall Meetings in the United States. Whether people are standing up and shrieking about birth certificates, or screaming that proposed health care reform involves Death Panels convened to judge the worth of your Nana or baby, it's been some pretty appalling stuff. I can't help but ask myself, "How in the world did anyone come to believe this crap?"

Death panels? Death Panels?!? It could not be more obvious that most people are latching onto buzz words, propaganda, smear campaigns and allowing that to serve as the whole of their knowledge base.

Listen, I'm a liberal. I'm not a Democrat, by the way, nor am I a Republican. I don't like to align myself along party lines, I vote the issues, not a ticket. That's what works best for me. If you happen to stumble across this, I'm not seeking to change your affiliation to mine, all I'm saying is that my long ago teacher had a point and it applies to our situation at present:

The biggest challenges we currently face are not the issues at hand, but our tendency to approach situations with preconceived notions as absolutes. The debate about health care cannot be solved when either side engages so broadly in scare tactics designed to obscure actual facts.

I'm not an Obama fan girl. I like him, I voted for him, but I voted for him because he was the choice presented to me that best fit my own political leanings. If we're really getting down to the nitty gritty, Hillary Clinton was my candidate of choice but she didn't make it to the final ticket.

Like the new health care plan, or loathe, please make sure you understand it before you judge it.

It's disheartening to see footage of meetings where people ask, seemingly believing that it is a question that needs to be asked, if Obama's health care plan really plans to euthanize the elderly.

Don't get your information from Fox News, or MSNBC for that matter. Don't look to the Daily Show, or The Colbert Report to make up your mind. Gather information from as many sources as you can, don't listen to soundbites on cable. Heck, don't listen to me, make sure you're well informed and make up your own mind. None of the TV sources named here will keep you well informed, that's something you need to do on your own. Don't let anyone do your thinking for you.

It's not a perfect plan, by the way, at least not in my estimation. We have a situation that needs addressing, that needs a solution. To solve it, we need to be knowledgeable, and we need to quit shouting at each other. When people start shouting, no one is heard, it just gets loud.

It's clear that I support health care reform, and if you don't? I have no quarrel with you. I just want to make sure that you aren't supporting it for the right reasons. If you think that you shouldn't support health care reform because Obama has nefarious plans for your grandmother?

That's not the truth of the matter. Find out the truth and then make up your mind based on as much knowledge as you can gather.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Laughing with Strangers: Julie & Julia

I've been anxiously awaiting the release of Meryl Streep's new film, Julie & Julia, and today was the day. I'm not going to spoil anything specific here, by the way. If you're looking forward to seeing the film? You absolutely should be. It was delightful.

I've always been one of those people who is comfortable going to the movies by myself. Although my husband is incredibly patient, and would gladly sit through a film aimed at a female audience, I generally only ask him to do that for movies we rent on DVD. That way he may find himself mired in a Chick Flick, but at least we can pause at will.

Most of my friends were at work, and I had this morning free. So I got up, showered, dressed and took myself to the movies. Frankly, I don't like to see sad movies by myself. It isn't as much fun to sit sniffling by ones self in the dark, but laughing with strangers is a wonderful experience. I was far from the only person in the theater there in my own company. Evidently this movie inspired a lot of people, both men and women, to take themselves to the movies on a Friday morning.

It's a really delightful film, although the half featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child is by far the more interesting. Amy Adams tries like mad, and heaven knows she's a very endearing actor, but her character, Julie Powell, just isn't a riveting person. She's a bit of a lovable loser, actually. Unfortunately the modern-day story is chock full of stereotypes, catty friends, marriages challenged by a woman having an ambition not centered on her relationship, a goodly heaping of misplaced self-doubt and what I suspect was entirely manufactured drama.

Most of the story in 2002 is based on Julie Powell's own story, which makes it a pity that it isn't more interesting. It's not boring, but I did find myself impatient to get back to the 1950s, France and elsewhere with Julia Child.

By the way, I think a lot of people wait for DVDs to come out thinking it will be much less expensive. My 10:30 a.m. showing cost $6.00s and I readily admit I simply smuggled in a bottle of water with me.

Make sure to eat before you go though, or you'll be hungry enough to eat your own shoe by the end of it.

One note on the (again, I suspect) manufactured drama: Although Powell's husband is incredibly supportive, and absolutely long suffering, the movie creates a situation that did not actually reflect well on him. Had he voiced his concerns at any other point, because they are entirely valid, I probably would have been cheering him on. However, the movie has it that he chooses the worst moment possible, in the very recent aftermath of what is an actual disappointment of a nearly crushing nature.

That's one of the problems with Chick Flicks, and this one was written (and primarily written well) by Nora Ephron. They might set out to make women feel empowered, but the situation in this film just made me feel weary.

It is entirely possible for women to accomplish much without turning into selfish hell beasts. Perhaps Powell didn't find it to be so, but I've read some of what she wrote. She's a very capable, talented writer, and I suspect an incredible cook. I had a hard time believing that she so nearly folded, but I also had a much harder time believing that her husband chose that particular moment to withdraw his support.

In other words, too often Chick Flicks accidentally make men look far more callous than most of them are. The counter-balance is that Julia Child's husband (played by Stanley Tucci) is wonderful from start to finish.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Joe and the "Be Careful!" bag

In the two months I've lived in my new house I've gotten used to our new neighborhood. I like the suburbs, at least thus far. Things are far less crowded in the shops when I run around doing errands. The traffic isn't as bad. The views are absolutely lovely. Even shopping at the grocery store is slightly different.

The store itself is newer and the staff somewhat less eccentric. Although, truth be told I enjoy odd people. They make life more interesting. One thing it has in common with the metro stores, and probably all the other stores in this chain super market is that developmentally delayed and challenged individuals are employed as baggers. That's something we're all so used to that it actually stands out to me when a grocery store chain doesn't have that particular policy. Whole Foods, for instance, does not have the policy in place. A fact that bothers me, probably because I have a developmentally delayed niece. Shape up, Whole Foods.

Anyway, Joe and the Be-Careful-Bag quickly became part of the rhythm of my life. It happened week after week. I'd be standing in line with my cart, awaiting checkout, when the same dark-haired, pretty manager would gesture to me, "I'll take you on aisle 9, ma'am."

I'd take my cart over to the aisle in question and listen to the pretty young manager, with her sidekick Joe, go through the ritual of bagging my groceries.

"That goes in your fruits and vegetables bag, Joe." "Joe? Joe, that goes in your be-careful-bag."

It's an interaction that has become part of my weekly life. I've been so impressed by how patient the young manager is in repeating the same phrases over and over. She seems to have an endless supply of it. Taking a page from her book, I've started grouping my groceries in clumps of frozen, delicate, fruits and vegetables when putting them onto the belt. Might as well try and make Joe's life a little bit easier.

The fact is not much really separates my lot in life from Joe's. I had better luck, plus genetics and an accident of birth were kinder to me, that's about it. Something about my canvas grocery bags stumps Joe a bit. They can hold more than the plastic grocery bags. I think that's how the manager learned to spot me, and to pull me out of line, taking Joe with her. Every now and then I end up with an ungodly heavy bag, and an amusingly light bag, but a bit of shifting in the back of the car before I head for home and that's all solved.

I admit to being fascinated by the concept of the be-careful-bag. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our interactions with other people, the difficulties in life came with that knowledge? "Oh that person? Oh yes, you'll have to put her in the be-careful-bag. Watch what you say." "I've got a meeting at noon today, better make sure to bring the be-careful-bag with me, the projections are looking iffy." "Make sure to put Paul in a be-careful-bag today, things aren't going well with his son."

Life doesn't get grouped like that, of course, at least not literally. I think we all have people, situations, and projects that could do with a be-careful-bag. Handle with care.

When you get right down to it, Joe is a person who ended up slotted into a particular designation in life. He requires just a little more patience, but don't we all in some situation or other? Leave me alone with a set of instructions on how to build something and at completion I'm likely to end up in the "needs a stiff drink" bag of life.

So yesterday when the dark-haired manager was nowhere to be found, and I still ended up in Joe's line, I began grouping my groceries as I've grown accustomed to doing. That was when the woman in front of me, harried, tired and surrounded by children lost her patience entirely.

"What are you doing? They'll break." She snapped. I don't blame her. Not really. Who knows what bag she belonged in that day? Maybe she didn't feel well. Maybe there is a world of problems awaiting her. Maybe the tab on the groceries was upsetting. I don't know. "God! Could I get a different bag boy here?"

We all reach the end of our tethers at different points, and that poor woman was clearly at the end of hers. The cashier stepped in and took over for Joe. As the woman left Joe recited the lines he says to all customers, "Do you need help out?" and "Have a good day!"

You know, it isn't the be-careful-bag litany that really brought Joe into my line of sight. Made him stand out as a person. It was that he always puts a particular emphasis on the word good. As if he is sincerely wishing the person leaving an actual, good day. It clearly caught the woman's attention also, and a look of regret washed over her face for a moment as she wished him a good day in return.

As my purchases made their way towards Joe he took hold of one of my canvas bags uncertainly. The cashier working with him clearly wasn't used to the drill.

"Joe? Joe that's your be-careful-bag." I said and handed him the eggs. It was as if I'd uttered a magic incantation. Every now and then an item would stump him, but in the past two months it turns out that I'm highly trainable. "That goes in your cold-bag, Joe."

I'm not writing this because I think Joe is pitiable. He's not. He's a young man, working hard and actually putting effort into doing a good job. Safeway, the chain that employees him, helped him find a place in this world. When you get right down to it that's what all of us search for throughout the course of our lives.

No, I'm writing this because something struck me. Joe might require more patience, but he gets it and at the end of his task he'll wish you a good day, and he'll mean it. Regardless of whether you're kind and helpful, or short tempered and prickly.

Maybe that was all that woman needed to find a way to gather her strength again. Maybe that's all we need to be taken out of our own be-careful-bags at any given time.

Have a good day.