Appliances, People and Other Crap That Gets Old

Last month I had to buy a new clothes washer.  I came home from work one Friday and dropped my casual dress shirts into the washer, as I did at the end of every work week.  After a few minutes I realized the washer had stopped.  In fact, after it filled with water, it had grown surprisingly silent.  The thing banged a lot when in action.  But when I checked on it, I was stunned to find it still filled with water.  No amount of manipulation – which, for the mechanically-challenged such as myself – meant yanking on the knob (as if I was in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session) and smacking it (again, as if in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session).  Aren’t you glad you decided to read something today?!

All of that was to no avail.  So I removed the shirts and squeezed out the water and searched online for a repair place.  I found one, but they couldn’t fix it.  I paid their fee – and never heard from them again.  I filed a fraud complaint with my bank, which gave me provisional credit.  But they ultimately decided I was hysterical and reversed the credit.

I was forced to get a new washer – and change banks.  I realized the obvious: my 10-year-old clothes washer had decided to give up on me (at the financially worst time!) and I had to get a new one.  My long-time good friend, Raymond*, came in from out of town shortly after that.  He was here when I bought a new washer through Overstock and here at the house when it arrived.  It turned out to be much smaller than anticipated – suitable more for a dorm room or efficiency apartment than a hyper-clean single man living alone in a 3-bedroom house – so I was forced to return it.

I then purchased a fuller-size washer and had it delivered.  Before Raymond returned home, he helped me disconnect and move the deceased appliance into the garage.  I had to empty out the bulk of the water by hand.  We both laughed afterwards, as I championed the fact two 50-something fuckers like us could move a massive appliance across several feet and through two doorways.  Personally, it was the most exercise I’d had in months!

Not long afterwards, Raymond encountered his own appliance-related fiasco.  His aging refrigerator had started causing him problems.  He was able to get it repaired, but it was still an unsettling prospect for him.  His health problems seriously impact his personal finances, and in the wealthiest country on Earth, people in his condition have to budget tightly.

The image at top is from a serious of text messages between Raymond and me as he lamented his refrigerator ordeal.  I couldn’t help but laugh loudly and told as many people as possible; people who are roughly our age.

At 15, my truck is showing its age.  The engine light keeps illuminating, and a headlight recently went out.  But it’s still operating relatively well!  Other things in and around my house are also becoming problematic.  My father had a fetish for scented candles, until I finally convinced him they were damaging the walls and ceilings with soot.  The kitchen sink had been causing trouble years ago – long before either of my parents passed away.  The water heater is leaking slowly.  My iron (my mother’s iron actually) committed suicide a few months ago in mid-session.  The roof has a number of openings, which allow squirrels and other small invasive varmints to enter and hide.  Their rumblings in the attic make me recall the mythical rat problem in “The Exorcist”.

Years ago my mother would tell me that life begins at 40; a rather common saying at the time.  She had just turned 40 when we moved into this suburban house in December of 1972.  Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003, I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life.  The following April, I severely sprained my left ankle while walking my dog.  It had rotated as far as it could go without breaking.  I ended up on crutches and taking time off from work.  About 5 months before I turned 50 in 2013, I had a freak accident here at the house that severely damaged my right arm and landed me in the hospital for a few days.  If I had been alone, I probably would have bled to death.

It seems the start of every decade of my life coincides with something bad.  In the two months before I turned 30 in 1993, one of my closest friends died, and I contracted Hepatitis A that culminated in a hospital stay and nearly two months off from work.  Therefore, I’m not eager to see what awaits me come my 60th birthday – if I’m fortunate enough to make it that far.

A couple of months ago I was looking into one of my eyes in the mirror when I noticed a bruise on the outside of my left forearm, close to the elbow.  It immediately drew my attention for one simple reason – I have no idea how the damn things got there!  And I grew alarmed.  Occasionally my parents would end up with miscellaneous bruises; marks with an unknown cause.  It made me recall an even more unsettling incident from more than two decades ago.

I worked for a bank in Dallas, dealing with high-dollar clientele.  Many of my customers were elderly.  I was on the phone with a gentleman one afternoon when he halted the conversation and began mumbling.  I asked if he was alright.  He then noted rather casually – almost too casually – that he was bleeding and didn’t know from where.  A colleague passing by my desk at that moment noticed my eyebrows pop upward in shock.  I asked the man if I needed to call someone for him, as in 911.  He said no, that he’d be alright.

Of course, a bruise is nowhere as serious as blood.  But I’m still wondering if I’m now at that point in time – the age where my body is subtly telling me it wants to lead a life of its own.  I’m not ready to let the bastard go yet!  Yes, I’m a writer, but I don’t want to melt down into a fat, grouchy curmudgeon surrounded by books and bottles of wine and vodka!  If you knew my present lifestyle, it may seem that way, but no one asked you!

Raymond turned 59 last month, and I told him I’m actually looking forward to turning 60 in two years.  I also told him something even more significant – we will age and mature, indeed, but we will never get “Old”.  I certainly don’t intend to let myself reach that point.  Raymond has been through a lot in his life.  Just half the crap he’s endured would send most people into therapy or a talk show.  And I’m still here for a reason, too.

Broken clothes washers or not, I’ll go on until my power system decides it’s had enough.  In the meantime, I’m still on the lookout for anymore rogue bruises.

*Name changed

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Indigenous People’s Day 2021

“Oh Great Spirit who made all races. Look kindly upon the whole human family and take away the arrogance and hatred which separate us from our brothers.”

Cherokee Prayer

Indigenous People’s Day

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No, we can’t make you wear a mask or get a vaccine shot. Here are some other things we can’t make you do…

From fellow writer and blogger Art Browne, my brother in cosmic lunacy.

Pouring My Art Out

Take showers or baths.

Wipe your butt after you poop.

Open your eyes while driving on the freeway.

Not stick your head into a hornet nest.

Not set your house on fire.

Put on a parachute before jumping out of an airplane.

Not drink bleach or shoot horse de-wormer up your rear end.

Think.

Have empathy.

Have common courtesy.

Be a good person.

Do real research on vaccines, not just find internet groups that support your bias.

Pay attention to the vast majority of scientists and medical experts.

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Banned Books Week 2021

This week begins the annual “Banned Books Week” which lasts through October 2.  The yearly event is sponsored by the American Library Association and promotes literacy, free speech and a free press.  It’s the regular battle against the self-styled, self-appointed overlords of what is supposedly proper and improper for everyone to see and read.  I’ve always believed this should be a year-long event, as free speech and free press are under constant threat – not just in, but in totalitarian regimes, like North Korea, but even in open societies, such as the United States.

Keep writing and keep fighting!

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020.  A total of 273 books were targeted for removal, but here is a list of the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books.  Some are familiar classics, while others are new arrivals.

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

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In Remembrance: September 11, 2001

“They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind.”

Native American Proverb

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Labor Day 2021

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”

J. M. Barrie

Image: Modern Toss, New Scientist

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Strained

On September 1, several new laws went into effect here in Texas – 666 to be exact; a number that surely makes evangelicals tremble.  Some, like Senate Bill 968, which bans “vaccine passports”, became law immediately when Gov. Greg Abbott signed them in June.  Others, such as House Bill 2730, which deals with eminent domain, go into effect January 1, 2022.

Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups.  The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were.  Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become.  Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.

This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular.  One deals with voting and the other with abortion.  Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives.  To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty.  Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born.  Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.

Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant.  It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week.  In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed.  The term is misleading.  The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves.  Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks.  When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine.  But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way.  It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality.  In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.

But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000.  This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry.  Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject.  Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal.  Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal?  It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law.  Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.

I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world.  Where’s my financial compensation?

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to abortion rights when it refused to take up the new Texas law for consideration.  Previously, it’s overturned similar laws passed by other states.  But for the past few years, conservatives have been pushing these draconian measures for the mere sake of having the High Court review the Roe v. Wade decision and ultimately overturn it.  The Court’s refusal to examine this Texas law is a blatant nod to right-wing extremists who feel divinely appointed to control other people’s lives.

The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process.  SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting.  The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections.  Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access.  Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious.  But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies.  It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.

Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations.  This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri.  Scores of people died.  Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement.  And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?

The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad.  HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes.  SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process.  Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!

On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history.  In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México.  It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.

Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class.  The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.

I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights.  Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.

I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.

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Curtain

Pigeons fly as a policeman guards residents praying outside the Shah-e Doh Shamshira mosque during the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2011. Photo by Erik de Castro/Reuters

Hyenas are one of the oldest species of canine on Earth.  Indigenous to Africa and more closely related to felines, they exist in four subspecies: spotted, brown, striped and aardwolf.  Despite these slight differences, hyenas are carnivorous creatures.  They’re also basically scavengers; waiting until a larger animal dies or is severely incapacitated before ripping it to pieces.  And – depending on the victim – they leave little behind, except horns, hooves and tails.  All subgroups of hyena boast another attribute – they can’t be tamed.  They’re not like domesticated dogs, which have become one of humanity’s truest non-human companions.  The hyena mindset is too rudimentary to allow it to sit and stay.  They’re just too savage and wild to conform to human-induced pleasantries and commands.  You really don’t want one as a pet.  Hyenas just need to be left alone.

Afghanistan is a hyena.  It’s savage and wild.  We really don’t need it as an ally.  Unlike a domesticated dog, it doesn’t return the love.  We just need to leave it alone.

This landlocked pocket of mountains sits at the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East; languishing in another realm, a universe unto itself.  Its current borders were established in the 19th century, but Afghanistan bears an ancient history.  Its geographic location made it a principal feature of the storied Silk Road, which carried travelers and traders between Southern Europe and China.  Excavations throughout Afghanistan prove that humans populated the region as far back as 52,000 years ago; when Neanderthals were the dominant bipedals.  Archaeologists have shown that more stable, urbanized societies began developing by 3000 BCE.  With its history closely tied to neighboring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, the Afghanistan of millennia ago was part of two of the earliest and largest civilizations on Earth – Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.  Mesopotamia is notable for evolution of one of the first writing systems in the world.

For almost as long as its relatively modern existence, Afghanistan has been subjected to one barbarous onslaught after another.  It fell to the Achamenid Empire, after Darius I conquered it around 515 BCE.  Alexander the Great stormed into the region around 330 BCE and defeated Darius III.  The Maurya Empire took control of most of the region where it further entrenched Hinduism and introduced Buddhism.  A variety of successive conquerors and empires descended upon Afghanistan and surrounding areas.  Islam arrived in the 7th century CE via Rashidun Arabs coming from the Byzantine Empire.  In 1221 CE, Mongols invaded Afghanistan under their founder Genghis Khan who oversaw unbridled destruction of towns and villages.

All of these invaders had to battle a common enemy: Afghan tribesmen, gangs of nomadic and uncultured warriors who had little more than determination and grit as guiding forces.  Even when the British first arrived in the 1830s – hoping to annex Afghanistan and protect the latter’s position as a vital trade route from the Russian Empire – they were confronted with bands of ruthless fighters.  Great Britain tried three more times to conquer Afghanistan, resulting in a 1921 treaty to…well, leave them alone!

The most recent invasion attempt came with the former Soviet Union in 1979.  While the Soviets had been able to swallow up much of Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century, the seeming backwater of Afghanistan proved to be more formidable than others.  The Soviets may have easily overrun such nations as Hungary, but Afghanistan tribesmen fought harder than even the great Russian bear anticipated.  The United States likes to claim it helped Afghans defeat the Soviets and drive them out before they could mark a full decade of their presence.  But one thing remained certain.  Afghanistan just couldn’t be tamed; that is, it couldn’t be conquered.

Afghanistan’s remote location has made it as difficult to study as it has been to conquer.

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is only recent; dating to the 1980s.  Before then, most Americans couldn’t point it out on a globe of the world.  Many probably still can’t.

But in the modern schemes of geopolitical events, the fact the U.S. promised to help Afghanistan rebuild after defeating the Soviets and then failed to do it gets lost in translation.  It’s this failure that led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s.  The Taliban rejuvenated antiquated views of how the world should function, including a more brutal version of Islam – which is akin to evangelical Christianity: narrow-minded and filled with more hate than love.  What infrastructure remained in Afghanistan collapsed, and women became relegated to a status one step above cattle, driven from schools and forced to walk around dressed like beekeepers.  It was this bloodthirsty atmosphere that spawned the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which in turn, culminated in a 20-year occupation of this ragged bunch of mountains and its disoriented tribal factions by the U.S.

And, as of August 31, we’re gone.  The U.S. has left the region; exiting as a construction company forgoes building a skyscraper in quicksand.  It’s not that America is wimping out and giving up.  We’re tired of this place.  Just as some people can’t pinpoint Afghanistan on a map, some Americans were surprised to know we were still there.

And now, we’re gone.  Good riddance!

I have no qualms about leaving.  Afghanistan wasn’t worth the trouble.  The U.S. couldn’t maintain its place over there.  We can’t always be the ones to protect people from themselves.  We’ve spent trillions of U.S. dollars (taxpayer dollars) and have nothing much to show for it.  The Afghan Army, for example, surrendered to the reborn Taliban as soon as the Americans started leaving.  All that time, effort and money spent to train the locals to fight against the more brutal elements of their own society evaporated.  It’s like training nurses to work in the emergency room and then watch them pass out at the first sight of blood.

So what now?  Nothing!  Once we beat back the Taliban and helped move Afghanistan into the 21st century, the Afghan people should have been able to take control at that point.  Instead tribalism and that vehement version of Islam swarmed over the country.

Afghanistan donned the hyena mentality once again.  But that seems to be its true nature.  It’s wild and can’t be tamed.

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A Second of Thought and Prayer

The Governor of the State of Texas, Greg Abbott, has COVID-19.  Since he is anti-vaccine and anti-mask, let us give him what he deserves: a second of our thoughts and prayers.

Okay, now please continue with the more pressing matters of your life.  Thank you for your support.

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Corona is Quiet

Wow!

Dogpaddling Through Life

Corona piques loudmouths
who doubt if she’s real.
They debate whether she can
be trusted to kill.
Does she prefer old folks,
or will any one do?
Can vaccines disrupt her,
or does she like them too?
Does the color of your skin
determine your fate?
Is it true she likes poor folks;
in the rich she abates?

But Corona? Corona is quiet.
She empties the roadways
and crowded bars.
She covers your mouth
in schools and cars.
She shoves tubes down your throat
to help you breathe.
she shovels the dirt when
you succumb to disease.
Corona don’t care
what your preacher thinks
as she silently weaves
through the towns and streets.

I walk with my dog
on a Saturday morn.
I converse with the birds
not quite overworn
with the sounds of cars
and giggling voices.
Today they’re silent.
This weekend is joyless.
After pretending for months
she…

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