Tag Archives: being American

Channeling my inner little old lady

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So you know how sometimes you have to dial an 800 number, and from the first syllable emitted by the robot voice you can tell by the roiling in your gut and the pricking of your thumbs that this isn’t going to go well, but you persevere because you screwed up and now you’re in a panic?

And the reason you’re in a panic is that you’ve just woken up to the fact that your husband’s insurance has been blithely denying all the claims relating to his tractor accident? Okay, in all honesty I don’t know they were necessarily blithe about it. They may have been in ho hum mode, thinking about the past weekend or looking forward to the next one. No reason for me to presume there were any shrill cackles of banshee glee. Either way, to get back to my point…

What this means, in ordinary everyday terms, is that the giant wodge of papers covered with numbers and headed, reassuringly, “Explanation of benefits” and “This is not a bill”, which you’ve been ignoring because, seriously, who reads those things … but then you do, and HOLY CRAP!!

Paper pile (2).jpg

The actual wodge, artistically draped over a pile of fresh bills.

Oh – and I should mention that the reason you’re reading the wodge is that suddenly you’re getting actual bills – $1,814 for the emergency physician, who is the guy who essentially saved the Hubbit’s life, so it was totally worth it (most of the time, although maybe not so much when he refuses to wear his hearing aids) but, you know, on the other hand, you could do a lot with $1,814, if you had it. For example, that’s pretty much the cost of a pregnant cow around these parts.

But I digress. I was telling you about bills you might happen to receive following a major medical event.

Like $961 for the emergency hospital. You go “Ouch” because, after all, he was there for only a couple hours before they shipped him off to a hospital that was actually capable of keeping him alive – and then you look again and you realize the $961 is what’s left over after insurance kicked in $25,765 – and I mean, seriously, that’s more than $10,000 per hour! The Hubbit’s a smart guy who was highly qualified and certified up the wazoo back in his pre-retirement days, but no one ever thought he was worth that much back then! If they had, we’d probably be in ho hum mode at the sight of these numbers. Or maybe not, because … there’s more. So much more.

A whole sheaf of bills for the ambulance services that got him from home to the local emergency hospital, and from there to the bigger hospital in Spokane … and bills for the rehab facility, and the orthopedic clinic, and the imaging company, and the physical therapist. But that pile of bills is still smaller than the “explanation of benefits” wodge, so you start flicking through it, and you come across one for $25,765, which is the amount due for the local emergency hospital, and you realize that when the hospital sent you a bill for $981 they were (blithely?) assuming that the insurance company was going to pay – only this particular benefit explanation says, in a word, “Nope”. And you keep going and you find one for $99,285.97, which is just for that first day at the hospital in Spokane – less than a day – he arrived there after 6.00PM, for crying out loud. But that’s what it cost to make it so that he didn’t die right away.

Bill

You see that number? Someone tells me that’s my “total responsibility” – except that it isn’t, because this is only one of 55 pages of ridiculous numbers that came in a single envelope; other envelopes have come bearing additional pages – and all I can do is laugh. Shrug my shoulders. Vote for Bernie. Because this is absurd – not because magical medical technology isn’t worth what it costs, but because no individual human can or should shoulder such a responsibility.

And you look at it and you think, “Well, he’s alive. So there’s that.” But at the same time you realize your heart is going “Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit” like The Little Engine That Could, after it made it to the top of the hill and headed down the other side and then gravity took over just as it noticed there was a wide, churning river at the bottom … and no bridge.

You know how that feels?

I really hope not, because if you’re taking the time to read this blog I like you, and I value you as an important source of warm fuzzies and endorphins, and I don’t want you either to plunge headfirst into a river or succumb to a heart attack.

Anyway, at that point, feelings aren’t really the issue. The issue is, what are you going to do? What I did was clutch the wodge in sweaty hands and take it to the Hubbit, and pick a fight with him about politics – his being conservative, and therefore opposed to state-funded universal healthcare. That urgent business having been satisfactorily concluded (it’s hard to concentrate on defending a philosophical point of view when your doting wife has just delivered a quarter million dollar-or-so whack upon your shiny pate), we agreed that there was no point in worrying about it, since payment was impossible. I promised to call the insurer on the next business day for a WT actual F conversation, organized the wodge into a neat stack (ordered by date and page number), put it on my desk, and promptly forgot about it.

I have an excuse. The Girl Child has been visiting and I’ve had coffee to drink and arguments to have and … oh, just generally more interesting things to do. Every few days a fresh bill would arrive, sometimes with a plaintive note scrawled across it from a medically-oriented bookkeeping person dismayed by the failure of the insurance to pay, and I would snicker at their naivete and rush out to suck down another coffee with the Girl Child. A couple included a form and a request that we complete it with the details of the “motor vehicle accident”, and I’d roll my eyes, because a tractor is not a motor vehicle, it’s farm equipment, and the reason I know this is that it’s not insured as a motor vehicle, so obviously it can’t be one! I’d add each bill to the growing pile on my desk and promise myself (and, occasionally, the Hubbit) to deal with the matter “tomorrow” – which, as we all know, is always a day away. Hooray for tomorrow!

Well, a couple days ago I was poking around on my desk and I came across a letter from the insurer dated April 12. It was addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam”, and expressed regret at our injury/accident and a wish for “good luck with your recovery”. There was also some reference to the need for a prompt reply.

Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit.

They provided a post office box address, and a phone number.

I pondered my strategy while remembering how to breathe.

It was clear that a snail mail letter wouldn’t work. For one thing, my hands were trembling too much to type. Also, my grammatical synapses felt out of whack. And this wasn’t all bad. While tremor and grammatical uncertainty are a problem when one is wording a professional-sounding business letter, they can be helpful in presenting the persona of a slightly dotty and forgetful old lady.

I picked up my phone and dialed 1-800-ETC-ETRA – as provided at the end of the insurance company’s letter for the Other Party Liability office. A chirpy young woman answered, and introduced herself as Jessica. She asked for my name, and I gave it. With cheerful enthusiasm she expressed her eager willingness to help me. “But first,” she said, “I’d like to tell you about a great opportunity we can offer you.” Then she asked whether anyone in our household was over fifty years of age. I didn’t feel like listening to a sales pitch, but on the other hand she sounded so hopeful and eager that I decided to humor her. “Yes,” I said warily, “we’re both over fifty.” She launched into a description of a medical alert system the company was offering. She was clearly new to selling – she said “um” a lot, and a couple times she forgot to tell me something and had to backtrack, and although she was very sweet after a while I ran out of humor and cut her off.

That is, I tried to cut her off. “You know, I don’t want to waste your time. I really just want to deal with my query. Can you put me through to someone?” She ignored me. Just kept right on talking, rolling over me. “Hey!” I said. “Jessica, stop! I’m not interested!”

There was a pause, then she asked, “Would you like to talk to one of our representatives?”

“NO!” I shouted. “Just put me through to customer service!”

kate mckinnon omg GIF by Saturday Night Live

“Oh! Okay!” she chirped, perky as ever. I ground my teeth and breathed deeply, and a new voice came on. This sounded like a more mature, experienced woman. She also expressed a desire to help me – but first, she said, she’d like to offer me a great opportunity. Did I have a cellphone? I exploded – I was totally and irredeemably out of humor by then – and blow me down, she also just rolled straight into her pitch.

It finally dawned on me that she wasn’t human, and nor was Jessica. Nor was the woman who invited me to sign up for a roadside assistance program, or the friendly young man who wanted to know whether we had a TV. They were all, every one of them, bots. Not even real artificial intelligence.

The fact that Jessica had fooled me was profoundly embarrassing!

So, anyway, by the time the fourth robot voice came on I gave up on the number provided in the letter. If you’re wondering why I didn’t hang up sooner, it was because I kept hoping for a human! There comes a point in any venture where you’ve invested so much time and emotional energy that you can’t stand to quit, in case you’re just one cuss word away from Nirvana.  Come to think of it, that’s probably also why I keep buying Lotto tickets.

Anyway, eventually I called the number on the back of the Hubbit’s medical insurance card. That got me through to someone who could find no record that I had authority to speak with them on his behalf, so we got to have one of those super-fun threesomes that so enrich the lives of partners of the hearing impaired. You know how those go: you turn on the speaker phone so you can both hear, and he leans over the phone, breathing heavily into your ear, and then the person on the other end says something and he says, “Huh? Whut?” So you repeat it, and he loudly and clearly enunciates his response, and … rinse and repeat, for however long it takes. In this case it took a while, and the grand finale was when she read back a contract, and every time he started to say “Huh? Whut?” I’d frantically flap my hands in his face, because we did NOT need to be interrupting an electronic recording of a legal document. Eventually he got to say the required legally binding words, and he was given leave to kiss the telephone, and they were married. Or something like that.

We all heaved a sigh of relief and the Hubbit trundled off to play with his tractor, leaving me to explain the difference between a tractor (wheeled farm equipment) and a vehicle. “Oh,” she said, “No problem. You just need to speak with the Other Party Liability department. I’ll give you the number.”

“Oh no you don’t!” I exclaimed. “If the number you’re planning to give me is ETC-ETRA, forget it. That’s the number I called before this one and it connects directly to the fifth circle of Hell!”

There was a slightly stunned silence. “Are you sure you dialed the right number?” she asked. I said I was, and launched into a tirade about companies that infest the ether with robo-voices and inflict sales pitches on helpless little old ladies (at this point I remembered to insert a slight tremor into my voice) who are exhausted by caring for their injured and aging spouses, and also potentially facing homelessness because of denied claims and unpayable medical bills in a world that keeps voting for Damn Capitalists who refuse to support Medicare For All and just want us all to die in penury..

She offered to connect me directly to someone in the Other Party Liability department, and I said that would be acceptable provided she could vouch that they were human.

So that’s what she did, and this time I remembered right from the start of the conversation to quaver and dodder and make reference to how slowly old men heal after running over themselves with heavy equipment (which is not the same thing as a vehicle), and how stressful that was, and how difficult it was to remember everything, especially when we’d dealt with all sorts of paperwork at the hospital and I’d no idea there was more. I should mention that by this time I was tired, which meant I had to pause and say um occasionally while I thought about what to say, and I tended to forget details, which made it necessary to keep backtracking and repeating elements of my story, and all I’ll say about this particular young woman is that she sounded perky enough but she didn’t exhibit much empathy or compassion. She abruptly cut me off. “Was he at work when the accident happened?” I explained that he was loading up the tractor to get feed to the animals, right here at our little farm, and that he’s been retired for more than fifteen years now. She interrupted me again. “Okay,” she said.

“Um,” I said. “So what happens now?”

“I’ll adjust the record and pass it along to the appropriate department,” she said.

“But what do I have to do?” I quavered

“Nothing,” she said.

And that was it. What had been building up to be a fabulous blog post on the fundamental awfulness of the American medical insurance system fizzled with a soft pop. Which doesn’t mean I won’t still write it … but maybe not today.

Instead I thought I should write a blog post on the fundamental awfulness of insurance companies that use robots to try to sell services to people who want to deal with serious business, so I decided to call back 1-800-ETC-ETRA and find out just how many exciting new opportunities they’d offer me before connecting me to a human. I looked up the number on the insurance company letter.

That’s when I realized that the number they’d provided was in fact 1-866-ETC-ETRA. The 1-800 version of the number connects to a company that sells panic buttons, roadside assistance, and similar products.

So what the heck am I supposed to blog about now?

Please talk to me! What do you think about the cost of healthcare, and how it should be funded? Do you talk to robots on the phone, and do you find it reassuring or terrifying when they sound human? How do you decide what to blog about?

Sometimes life demands cookies

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Last week I mourned. I took time out to be happy on Wednesday, when Argos and I drove Cojak to his new family in Seattle, but made up for it on Thursday by refusing in any way celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday I despise despite quite liking turkey, candied yams and green been casserole. Usually I avoid it by sending the Hubbit to visit his sister, but this year that wasn’t an option, so instead I channeled the Mean Wife and abandoned my plan for a feast, and the Hubbit had to fry up a pathetic little piece of ham for himself and the Cool Dude. Friday was no better – I was sad and my face sprang a leak that I couldn’t stop up all day.

Clearly drastic measures were necessary. So I invited 15 people to a cookie party.

A cookie party is a simple and wondrous concept. You invite everyone you know who has an oven to bring 6 dozen cookies to your house.  You then ply them with delectable comestibles and let them entertain you with their conversational brilliance. (Note: Any lack of conversational brilliance is your fault. Bring out another bottle.) When you’ve had enough and want them to leave, you do arithmetic. For instance, if eight people have each brought 72 cookies, 72/8=9, therefore everyone gets to take nine cookies off each platter. Invariably people bring extra, and those are yours – the spoils – and while you can share them if you want to they’re probably better used to distract Hubbits while you hide your stash. And that’s it! For the rest of the year, people will trumpet your name as the hostess who sent them home from a great party with 6 dozen assorted home-baked cookies.

Anyway, having invited a hungry horde to descend upon my humble and chronically untidy abode, of course I then I had to clean my house. And also bake a whole lot of stuff. I thought of canceling the party, but that would have been just too feeble – plus I kept getting texts from happy wannabe cookie-eaters about how their individual baking efforts were going.

Cairo's butt.jpg

I was going to show you some before and after pictures of my kitchen, but really, why would I do that to you? Or to myself? This photograph of Cairo’s butt, from the perspective of my early morning pillow, pretty much says it all.

So I hurled together a double batch of Refrigerator Cookies, as well as a cheesecake and a malva pudding. Other people brought more goodies, so I canceled my plan to make Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake, but you really should try it – it’s wonderful! The end result was good and a vast amount of sugar was consumed by all. And since I couldn’t invite the denizens of the blogoverse to share, I figured I’d at least pass along a few recipes. You still have time to organize your own cookie party in plenty of time for Christmas!

Refrigerator Cookies

Fridge biscuits – aka “Refrigerator Cookies” for my American friends, who have given the humble biscuit a strange and perverted meaning involving gravy – were one of my Marmeee’s standbys. The dough is easy to make, you chill it for half an hour, and then you roll it out into sausages, which you wrap in wax paper and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to slice and bake them. The only downside to this is the cookie dough is irresistible, so if you’re planning to hold them for long, make extra. And then, damage control: store them where no one but you will see them.

The basic recipe isn’t wildly exciting, but it is incredibly forgiving and permits many complex variations on its simple theme. An option that kids love is to make two separate batches, one chocolate and one vanilla. You can then roll them out flat and lay one on top of the other before rolling them up into sausages, as described in the recipe. The end result is either a spiral pattern or Rorschach cookies – and which you choose will tell us much about who you are in those deep parts of you that cookies don’t go. For this year’s cookie party I made one batch of chocolate and ginger (I replaced some of the flour with cocoa powder, and added several generous spoons of ground ginger) and another batch with chocolate chips and chopped walnuts (I just made up a batch of plain dough and then, using my hands, squeezed and mixed in as much chopped nuts and chocolate chips as I thought it would hold). You could also add raisins, or lemon or orange rind and juice (plus a bit extra flour), or nutmeg and raisins, or cranberries – just have fun with it!

I roll up my sausages so that they’re about 1 1/4  inches (just over 3 cm) in diameter, and I slice them about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. Based on those measurements, a single batch will make about 4 dozen cookies.

8 oz butter
13 oz sugar
3 eggs
3 ml vanilla essence
17 oz flour
3 ml salt
3 ml baking powder
3 ml baking soda

  • Cream butter and add sugar, creaming well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla essence and beat well.
  • Sift flour with salt, baking powder and baking soda, and add to mixture.
  • Chill until stiff enough to handle.
  • Form into rolls, wrap in wax paper, and store in fridge.
  • When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 340ºF.
  • Cut slices and place on greased baking tray, spaced to allow them to spread, in center of oven until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. (Time depends on how thick you slice them. I cut mine about a half inch thick and they were done in 12 minutes in a convection oven.)
Argos with pumpkin.jpg

Argos thought I should bake a pumpkin pie, and even went out into the yard to find the necessary pumpkin, but that is something I would never do … so this picture is for the self-proclaimed Queen of All Things Holiday, including pumpkin pie.

Easy Baked Cheesecake

This is a good cheesecake recipe, but it does present a few challenges. First, it’s important not to over-bake it. Remember that it will continue cooking after you take it out of the oven. I’m still experimenting with how to get a firm but soft filling, and I imagine you’ll need to do your own experimenting depending on your altitude, your oven, and your preferences.

Second, I’d like a stronger hint of lemon than I managed this time. A “drop” of lemon juice doesn’t really cut it; I think next time I’ll skip the vanilla and add a “dollop” of lemon or lime juice … and maybe I’ll stir in some lemon or lime zest while I’m at it.

Lastly, although it tastes wonderful it doesn’t look that pretty. In my experience the topping tends to crack. So plan on slathering the top with whipped cream!

Base

1-2 pkts of graham crackers or tennis biscuits, crushed
8 oz butter, melted

  • Mix, making sure the crackers are saturated but all the butter has been absorbed.
  • Press down onto base of 8×8″ pie plate.
  • Refrigerate until the butter sets.

Filling

18 oz cream cheese
10 Tbsp sugar
Drop of vanilla essence
Drop of lemon juice
3 eggs
2 Tbsp flour

  • Preheat oven to 390 ºF.
  • Beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice until they’re smooth.
  • Add eggs and flour and mix well.
  • Pour over base.
  • Bake 35 minutes until just turning brown round the edges, and remove from oven.

Topping

9 oz sour cream
Splash lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar

  • Mix well.
  • Pour over hot cake, and return to oven for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with whipped cream.

 

If

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If he hadn’t been there, she’d still be alive.

If he’d been handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and kicked back to Mexico (again), he wouldn’t have been there.

If San Francisco weren’t a sanctuary city, the cops would have handed him over to ICE like they were supposed to.

If ICE were better at its job, it would have had the right kind of warrant and San Francisco would have handed him over despite being a sanctuary city. Actually, if ICE were better at its job he wouldn’t have been in the country at all. Maybe once, but then he’d have been deported and that would have been that, if things were managed right.

If we had a wall…

No, not just a wall. A force field. A dome-shaped shield covering the whole of the United States, and you could come through it if you were a real American or, okay, even someone with the right kind of relationship with a real American, but if you were, say, a rapist or a drug dealer or a Muslim, you’d get caught once, and then we’d inject this tiny microchip into you. Into the back of your neck, say, at the base of your skull … or maybe all the way deep into your brain, and then fix it there somehow in a way that makes it impossible to remove without leaving a hole in the precise part of your brain that you most definitely don’t want a hole in. Like the sex part, or the part that makes you breathe.

And if you ever tried to cross the force field, the microchip would activate and your head would explode – BOOM! SPLAT! – just like that. Now that would be cool – and it would work, too. If they figured out a way to do it I bet it would work.

eric andre mind blown GIF by The Eric Andre Show

Anyway, the thing is, if things were being handled right he wouldn’t have been there, sitting on the park bench, and he wouldn’t have picked up the bundle someone left under the bench, and the gun wouldn’t have gone off, and the bullet wouldn’t have ricocheted, and Kate Steinle wouldn’t have died while out minding her own business and taking a walk with her father.

Her poor father – can you imagine? A sunny afternoon, out for a stroll on the pier, and suddenly bang! and she stumbles forward and starts to fall, scarlet flowering on her back, “Daddy, help me!” – those were her last words. The last thing she said to him. “Daddy, help me!” – only he couldn’t. He couldn’t breathe for her.

That wetback beaner bastard murdered her, plain and simple.

Murder

Oh no, don’t start with that bullshit. You think him being there wasn’t premeditated? You think he didn’t think about what he was doing every damn time he slithered over the border? Anyway – look – “during the commission of another serious crime” – he was an illegal, for fucksake. Just by being there on that bench he was committing a crime. Oh – it’s not serious enough for you? Read the definition! “Robbery” – what do you think those fuckers are doing, coming over here, stealing our jobs, getting free healthcare, free education, paid for with our tax dollars –

It was murder.

And they let him off with “illegal possession of a firearm.”

What the fuck do you mean, that doesn’t make sense to you either? He’s a felon, for fucksake. Felons are not allowed to possess firearms.

Possess

Exactly. He was holding it. It doesn’t matter that he claims he didn’t know what it was. He got his hands on it. That’s possession, even by your own definition.

Anyway, there’s one good thing that came out of it: people are paying attention to the immigration situation and all the illegals. And the American people have finally chosen a leader who will do something about it. We are done with being robbed and raped in our own country.

Yeah, yeah – I know her parents don’t like that her death has been “politicized”. But she’s a public figure now. She belongs to America now, not just them.

We’re all mourning her, not just them.

We’re all mad about what happened to her – and I don’t get how her father can say he’s not mad. Did you see that interview? It was online – just google it. He says he hasn’t felt one moment of anger and he doesn’t want revenge.

I mean, seriously, that’s just weird. That’s not natural.

But, whatever – at least we are angry for her – we care enough about what happened to her to want vengeance – and we have a president who knows how to use anger to get people moving, so it’s worth it, I guess, if you look at the big picture. Because we the people are finally taking America back, and we’re kicking those fuckers out. They don’t belong here.

Except, of course, now this guy – what’s his name – Jose Garcia Zarate – he gets to stay. You can bet he’s happy about that! Only three years for murdering a beautiful American girl.

You know what really sucks? I read somewhere she was going to get married. I don’t know where – you can find it on Google. And she was pretty, you know? The fact that she was young and pretty, in love, and they say she was a happy person – that just makes it worse. You look at her picture and his picture side by side in all the media, and you tell me – which one would you rather have living in America today? I know, it’s probably “politically incorrect” to say, but fuck that – I’m not a snowflake, and I’m not scared to say there aren’t enough nice-looking, happy people in the world. She deserved to live.

Zarate and Steinle

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant and Mexican national, and Kate Steinle, whom he shot in 2015. (Back story)

And that fucker will get three years maximum for killing her, and he’ll serve half that because it’s in California and they’re soft on crime. Oh, you can bet he’s smiling. He was homeless and now he gets an 18-month vacation in a comfortable American prison, with widescreen television and ice cream on Sundays, all at the taxpayer’s expense. Don’t you think that’s better than going back to Meh-hee-co?

And you know California’s becoming a sanctuary state now, right? By the time he gets out the whole state will be a sanctuary for illegals. He’ll never have to leave.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. But if we could just solve the whole problem of illegals and crime…

You know, that idea of mine – the force field and the exploding microchip – that’s not such a crazy idea, right? If they figure it out, I bet it would work. I mean we already have the technology to put microchips in dogs … We could just quit worrying about Muslims and illegals and anyone else who doesn’t belong. Anyone caught hurting a real American, these inner city kids who join gangs, people who backtalk the police – bing bong, they get a chip. Same for illegals. You wouldn’t even need the wall, or the force field – although that would be cool to have … You’d just need something to activate the chip. A radar scanner or something. Screw up once? You get a chip. Screw up twice? Your head explodes.

If I could just figure out a way to pass this idea along to the president… What’s that Office of American Innovation about? If they’re interested in innovative ideas, this one would qualify, right? And for damn sure I’m an American.

With thanks to Tricia … I read your latest post and started to comment, and then my head exploded.

Ok … talk to me. What do you think we should do about all the violent crime caused by illegals?

A man and a dog, on the road home

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I picked up a hitchhiker on my way home from the writer’s conference a week ago.

The way it happened was, I left the highway to buy gas, and on my way back to the highway I saw a dog lying just off the on-ramp. As my foot shifted to the brake I saw that someone was already there, so I thought, “Okay, not my problem.”

Bubba on the onramp

A dog, a backpack, and a highway.

I was halfway up the ramp before I heard that still, small voice that speaks to all of us, if only we listen. “Go back,” it said.

“What? I can’t reverse down an on-ramp!” I argued indignantly, but I was already braking. I know that voice. I don’t always like what it says, but I’ve learned to pay attention. I reversed down the on-ramp, and I didn’t hit anyone or go off the road or get fined.

When I was close to the dog, I stopped and honked my horn. The man kneeling next to it looked up, and jogged over to my car. In my rear view mirror I saw the dog raise its head, and then move to a more upright position. I realized it wasn’t hurt – it had just been sleeping … but I was there and the man was leaning to peer through my side window so I rolled it down.

“Is that dog with you?” I asked him. “Is it okay?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, and smiled. I glanced at my rear-view mirror. The dog – it looked like a pit bull – was watching us. It looked healthy, well-fed. I looked back at the man. He was dark, and had gray hair in a long braid down his back, and wore a red bandanna. Even with him outside the car I could tell he needed a shower, yet he looked … well, not clean, exactly, but put together, as though he’d taken some trouble. The air billowing in through the open window was hot and heavy, and I turned up the fan on my air conditioner.

That voice wasn’t saying anything. It didn’t need to; I knew what I had to do. I sighed. “You need a ride?” I asked.

His face split in a huge grin. “Yes ma’am!” he replied. “Are you going near Ellensburg?” I was going 100 miles beyond Ellensburg – further than he’d hoped to get that day. We stashed his backpack in the trunk, and the dog, Bubba, jumped into the back seat and settled down with a sigh.

He introduced himself – I’ll call him Cajun. I’ll pick up hitchhikers when the voice says it’s okay, but I don’t feel obligated to entertain them, so I told him I was in the middle of listening to the final book in the “Wayward Pines” trilogy and didn’t want to stop. I brought him up to speed on the story and we listened together, but every now and again he’d drop a comment, and I’d switch off the CD and we’d chat. That’s how I heard his story – in bits and pieces interspersed with the bloody destruction of the last humans on earth – until I decided his story was more interesting than the book.

He told me he was part Cajun, part Mexican, part African, and two parts Native American. He’s been a mechanic for Boeing and a Marine, and a street preacher to the poor. Now, he does construction work and roofing, and picks up odd jobs here and there when he needs to. He’s a musician and songwriter and has supported himself and Bubba more than once by playing on sidewalks and street corners. At the moment his guitar is in Idaho, but he played me one of his songs that he’d recorded on his tablet. The recording wasn’t good, and I really wished it was. That song sounded worth hearing.

His regular-people life fell apart around 2001. The Man kicked him in the ass, so he gave The Man the finger, acquired a backpack, and hit the road. Since then he’s lived on the streets and wandered the highways of the USA, trusting God to provide, which He does mainly through the kindness of strangers. A few years ago he picked up a job in Sedona, Arizona, and within a few weeks he’d saved enough to rent a home. That job was followed by a couple of others. Life was good. He celebrated Valentine’s Day in 2015 by visiting the local animal shelter, where he found Bubba, and since then they’ve been inseparable.

But things fell apart in Sedona too, and soon Cajun and Bubba were back on the road. I was puzzled that he gave up on a place where it seemed he’d been content. This is not a lazy or stupid or unskilled man. He likes a cold beer at each end of a hot day, but he seemed sober to me. I asked him what had happened and he didn’t want to go into detail, but he said, “I don’t define my work as who I am. My purpose is to live in poverty and share God’s love with the discarded people in this earth.”

He has a grown daughter whom he hasn’t seen for years. He had planned to connect with her when he passed through Seattle a couple days before I met him, but something went wrong and a payment he was counting on was delayed. He didn’t want to face her with empty pockets so he canceled, and now Seattle was behind him and she was pissed.

“You think she’d have cared that you were broke?” I asked.

“I wanted to at least take her to lunch,” he replied.

“You’re an idiot,” I informed him. “You should go back, or at least apologize.” (I am so good at telling other people how to run their lives!) I don’t know that he cared much what I thought – why should he? – but a bit later he was texting with her. He didn’t want to go back, though – he was focused on his next destination.

Dream home

When Cajun is surfing the net, imagining his dream home, this is the kind of picture he’s likely to save.

Before Seattle, on their way up the west coast, he and Bubba got a ride with a long-haul trucker, who told him all about the trucking life. So he was on his way to Salt Lake City, where he’s signed up for a training course with a trucking company. Not too far down the road he reckons he’ll be able to buy his own truck – apparently trucking companies contract with drivers and help them do that. He was excited at the prospect of having a real home, but one that wouldn’t involve staying put in the same place.

“Do you think of yourself as homeless?” I asked. I was trying to puzzle him out. He’d told me he could not “live the American life”. Some of the things he says sound as though he’s on the road by choice – a hobo rather than homeless. He says he has no regrets. But then he’ll say something else that aches with hurts and disappointments, both suffered and dealt out, and I wonder what he’d change, if he could.

“I can’t afford a home,” he said, and he sounded sad.

“So you’re not like Reacher – just choosing to live on your own terms?” I asked.

“Jack Reacher? Like in the movie?” He laughed. He liked that idea. He said he personally didn’t want a home, but he thought Bubba would like one, and that’s what mattered most.

Just east of the Cascades he asked for a restroom break, so I pulled over in Cle Elum. While he was taking care of himself and Bubba, I texted the Hubbit to let him know I might be bringing someone home for dinner. The way things work with the Hubbit and me is, we each make our own plans and the other accommodates, but each of us has veto power. So I waited an hour or so, until we were near the Tri-Cities, before I said, “Okay, you have three options. I can take the next exit and drop you in town – there’s a McDonald’s, Walmart, etc. Or I can take the exit after that one and drop you there; there’s nothing there but you say you do better getting rides from country people. Or you can come on home with me, and tomorrow morning I’ll drop you at the truck stop.”

His eyes lit up, then he looked worried. “But won’t your husband mind?” he asked.

“I texted him hours ago and he hasn’t said no. And he’s used to me picking up strays,” I said. Plus, if the Hubbit won’t remember to keep his phone with him and check for texts from his loving wife who is driving along a lonely highway through the barren wastes of Eastern Washington, that’s on him, right? “You’ll be welcome, so it’s up to you. It looks as though you could use a shower and a washing machine,” I added, ever tactful.

So he came home, and the dogs weren’t assholes when I introduced them to Bubba, and the Hubbit was surprised but welcoming. Well, resigned, anyway – and once Cajun had showered and dinner was on the table, the Hubbit discovered for himself that the company was good, as promised.

Cajun's feet

Cajun prefers his tent to a bedroom indoors.

Cajun didn’t want the spare bedroom. He pitched his tent under a tree in the back yard. The next day we offered him the option of staying on for a few days, helping out a little on the farm in return for his keep, and giving himself and Bubba a rest – but he was in a hurry to continue his journey. He repacked his backpack – traded me some cheap dog food that the chickens like for the better stuff we feed our dogs, and left a small blanket and an umbrella on the washing machine. I guess when you have to carry everything you own, you don’t hang onto an umbrella during the dry season.

It turned out that the truck stop near us, that I’d planned to take him to, was on the wrong route, so we drove into Oregon, and he kept studying Google Maps on his tablet and saying, “It’s pretty soon … I think the next turn-off … Or maybe the next one.”

“I’m not taking you all the way to Salt Lake City, you know!” I groused – not because I minded so much as I was worried about running out of gas, and it was nearly the end of the month so I’d already run out of money. The truck stop was at the next turnoff after that, and he put $30 in my tank, because he may be homeless but he’s not a bum.

I texted with him while writing this story. I had to ask his permission to use photographs off his Facebook page, and I wanted to check in with him anyway. He’s in Utah, just outside Salt Lake City, feeling down in the dumps. It seems people there don’t respond to a “Hungry” sign, and no one is stopping to give him a ride. He’s hoping a trucker will come by soon, because they usually stop when they see Bubba. He’s moving on, going to Laramie, Wyoming, where he reckons he has a better chance of finding work. His course is in September and it lasts a month, and he can’t have Bubba with him while he’s training, so he needs to save up for a boarding kennel.

I hope they get a ride soon. I hope they make it home.

Do you pick up hitchhikers? What about hitchhikers with dogs? And … what do you think, when you see a homeless person?

 

A question of character

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So on Monday night we had this…

debate vs hillary donald

… which one could explain away as a combination of “the American political system at work” and, well …

Election 2016 gary johnson libertarian party

And one could, if one chose, simply leave it at that. But for some reason I feel compelled to say more, if only I could focus on the presidential election without perpetually being distracted by a need to hit something with a mallet, run out to the corral and shovel manure, or just, you know, bang my head against a wall.

Politics makes me go

snoopy-bleh

because I just don’t get it. Seriously, why would anyone want to be president? Here in the US you spend a year being alternately (or sometimes simultaneously) pilloried and on parade. You also have to spend a shitload of money – and I say “a shitload” intentionally, because to get it you have to kiss a lot of butt, not all of it clean. That gets you about three years to play the blame game while trying to unravel the mess your predecessor left behind. Then you pretty much put your presidential day job on hold for a year while you get back into pillory / on parade to win another three-and-a-half years in which to do the things you promised to do the first time you ran, when you were still fresh-faced and naive and thought the White House would be a cool place to live. Finally you have to spend your last six months in the job back on pillory/parade patrol, only now your party has chosen someone new to lead the parade and your job is to smile, smile, smile while they explain how they will actually do the things you said you would do only you were distracted by a war / tsunami / hurricane / plague of locusts. Then the voters pick the other party’s candidate and it’s your fault.

And that’s how it goes if you win.

Frankly we’d probably both have more fun if I just yattered on about the latest exploits of my favorite crazy goofball.

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Argos: focused, likable, and he probably won’t hurt you.

But I am a Blogger on a Mission to Fulfill my Civic Duty. I am going to discuss the US presidential election if it kills me because, notwithstanding all the noise and fuss and expenditure of obscene amounts of money, only one person can win it, and we the people have to decide who that person should be. And since clearly only an insane person could actually want the job, it’s very, very important that we take the time to understand each candidate’s particular brand of insanity, and determine whether it’s the kind of insanity that could result in us being blown up or obliged to live in cardboard boxes, because those are the kinds of insanity we should try to avoid.

Pretty simple, right? All we need to do is make a list and then cross off anyone who is untrustworthy, unqualified, unrighteous, undignified, unrestrained, unbalanced or in any other significant way un-okay.

dollary-clump

For the deluded and confused: Dollary Clump.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, once we have eliminated the deplorable, whoever is left must be the true choice.

Look, I’m not going to discount the possibility that you might actually like Trump or Clinton and earnestly desire to vote for one (or both) of them. But in such a case I really don’t know what more to say to you. Let’s talk about something else. Have you read any good books lately?

On the other hand, according to RealClear Politics 55.1% of voters object to Clinton while 58.3% dislike Trump, so it’s statistically likely that you plan to hold your nose all the way to the ballot box before you sadly scrawl your mark next to one or other name. These numbers make perfect sense to me since I think they’re both horrors for so many reasons that I don’t have the space or the inclination to enumerate here. (The information is all out there, guys – no need for me to repeat it. If you’ve been vacationing under a rock, please go here, here and here for a few probably-incomplete lists of what’s scary about Trump, and look here and here for a glimpse into Clinton’s dark side.)

What doesn’t make sense to me is that people are still voting for them, apparently on the basis that if they pick one the other will lose. Really, guys, the best you can do for America is pick the least worst? You’re seriously willing to live for four years with your selected portion of the bizarre mess the DemRep Coalition has sicked up on the national carpet? Come on, you can do better than that! Go for the gold!

Yes, I said it: you have a choice, and its name is Johnson/Weld. Yeah, yeah – third party, wasted vote, spoiler, blah blah. Just stay with me a little longer, okay? Let me explain why you’re wrong. Well, potentially wrong … if you’re willing to stop believing the myths and being scared by the lies. And, most important, you have to be willing to quit thinking that choosing a president is like betting on a horse race. This is not where you assess the “odds”, pick a winner and hope for the best. This is a time to think long and hard about the candidates – their character and qualifications – and choose the one who can best be trusted to deliver on their promises.

johnson-weld-2016

Libertarians Bill Weld (VP candidate) and Gary Johnson (Presidential candidate). (Side note: Johnson may look like a shrimp next to Weld, but in fact he’s 6 feet tall at sea-level, and spends a lot of his time standing on mountaintops. This means that Weld is probably taller than Abraham Lincoln – whose legs went all the way to the ground – which may or may not be significant, in that Lincoln ran as a third party candidate to become the first Republican president. Lincoln would not like the sorry, self-indulgent mess modern Republicans have made of his party! In fact, I’m pretty sure if he were running this year it would be as a Libertarian.)

One of the problems with Johnson/Weld is that they aren’t well known, even in an election that has voters riled up and paying more attention than usual. The best way to get known – and possibly the only way to stand a real chance of winning – is to participate in the presidential debates. These are controlled by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is essentially a joint venture between the Republican and Democratic parties. The CPD requires that, for a third party candidate to take part, they must average 15% in five preselected national polls. Sounds reasonable? Tell you what, let’s get it into context.

  • Both Clinton and Trump won their presidential nominations, which the CPD recognizes automatically, on less than 9% of possible votes.
  • The polls the CPD chose to determine whether Johnson/Weld were eligible to debate have used some questionable research methodologies, such as interviewing only people contactable via landline. This means they don’t connect with younger voters, who tend to use only cellphones, and who strongly favor Johnson.
  • The CPD’s stated mission is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners”.
  • Various polls indicated that Johnson/Weld were unknown to around 70% of voters.
  • According to a report by the conservative watchdog Media Research Center, from January through August this year the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts gave Trump 1,773 minutes of coverage, and Clinton 1,020 minutes. Johnson received 11 seconds on the NBC Nightly News in May, when the Libertarian Party announced his nomination. The other mainstream media, both print and broadcast, have paid him minimal attention.
  • Johnson/Weld are the only third-party candidates who appear on the ballots in all 50 states. To get there, they had to win the support of nearly a million people, spread across every state.
  • A Suffolk University poll released early this month asked voters: “If a third party presidential candidate is certified for president by a majority of state ballots, should he or she be included in the debates this fall?” 76% of respondents said yes.

So yeah, Mr Trump, you’re right. The system is indeed rigged. Lucky you.

Anyway, under the circumstances it’s impressive that Johnson/Weld averaged 9% in the selected polls – a record high for a third party contender. But the CPD wasn’t impressed, and the first debate, last Monday, went pretty much as expected …

Animatron donald trump hillary clinton debate argue

… and nobody learned anything new … EXCEPT that laid-back, chill, ever-friendly Gary Johnson could get angry. Apparently that came as a surprise. Me? I’m delighted. Let me tell you why.

But first let’s backtrack a little. You remember that Aleppo debacle? The Great Gaffe that magically knocked all of Trump’s uglies and Hillary’s sneakies off center stage for at least five minutes, until until some new dreadfulness emerged about them? Here’s a reminder.

So the interviewer asked what he planned to do about Aleppo, and inside Johnson’s head a synapse misfired and his brain went, “Umm … ALEPPO … acronym meaning whut?” instead of instantly understanding that the conversation had shifted to the conflict in Syria. And the internet lost its collective marbles. Suddenly, people who on a good day could barely find their own way to the bathroom were bumping into each other and going, “Haw! Gary Johnson! Aleppo! Haw haw haw!”

How big a deal was this? Well, on the plus-side, his name recognition improved significantly. The downside was that the mass media (and, with them, the masses) jumped to the conclusion that Johnson didn’t understand foreign policy. Obviously it would be a very big deal if a potential Commander-in-Chief didn’t know what was going on in a war zone where American troops are engaged, and didn’t have an opinion about how to deal with it. But that’s not what happened here. For a moment he lost the bubble, but as soon as he regained it he was off and running again – and by the way, I love his ideas about foreign policy. (Essentially, they amount to: “Let’s get the fuck out of everyone else’s business and clean up our own shit.” I may be over-simplifying just a little – don’t you go labeling him isolationist – but I don’t have time to talk about that here, okay? I’m starting to realize this is going to take more than one post. Oyyy…)

A couple days ago it happened again. In an interview, asked to name a leader of any country in the world that he admired, he couldn’t think of one. Now it’s possible that he thinks they’re all flawed, and it’s also possible that he’s just not good at pop quizzes. Seriously, so what?

What matters to me, and what I took away from these “gaffes”, was how he handles a setback. Unlike Clinton, he doesn’t deny. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t tweet, threaten and blame. After blanking on Aleppo, the first thing Johnson did was apologize to his supporters: “I’m so sorry. You all work so hard and I let you down.” For the week or so that followed, every time a reporter said the A-word he took responsibility and refused to make excuses. And when he couldn’t think of the name of a national leader he admired, he commented with wry humor that he was having “another Aleppo moment”.

He kept his chill until last Monday, when he was preparing to watch the first presidential debate of 2016. He was working Plan B, connecting with the press and active on social media, but it must have been heartbreaking to be muzzled, denied a space on the stage, when he had worked so hard to be there.

So when some reporter chose that occasion to ask him, yet again, about Aleppo, he came unglued. “I’m tired of innocent people being killed in these countries!” he exclaimed. “Hillary Clinton dots the i’s and crosses the t’s on all of the names … but as a result we have the foreign policy that we have right now that I have to tell you I think is horrible. Horrible!” He was angry, he said, that people were calling him out on the names of geographic locations and foreign leaders, while “the underlying policy has thousands of people dying! And that is unacceptable!”

And that, friends, is why I’m delighted. Push Hillary and she slithers behind a denial. Poke Trump and he shouts and calls you names. Put Johnson under enough pressure to dent his cool, and what flares up has nothing to do with his ego. What we see is anguish over the mess we’ve been making, and a passion to clean it up.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to be president, but I think I get why he’s running. He’s proved himself in government. He’s been outstandingly successful in business. He’s climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents. What else does he have left to do but save the world?

As for me, it’s a matter of personal integrity. When someone of such caliber asks for my vote, how can I throw it away on someone who would not respect me or honor my trust? I don’t care about his so-called “odds”. I’m in.

[All GIFs from giphy.com]

What are your thoughts on this election? What do you think is the most important character trait in a good president? Have you read any good books lately? Let’s talk!

Want to know more about Gary Johnson/ and Bill Weld? Go here and here to learn where they stand on the issues that are important to you. Wikipedia has good biographical information on both Johnson and Weld. Also, go browse their Facebook page and watch some of their online town hall meetings.