KingMidget's Ramblings

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Reporting From The Apocalypse (4)

Here we are. It’s Saturday, day whatever of the Great Pandemic of 2020. Seriously, isn’t it time for a catchy name for the thing. There was a War to End All Wars, that wasn’t. The Roaring 20s. The Great Depression. The Baby Boom. The Oil Shocks of the 1970s. 9/11. The Great Recession.

I’m sticking with the Great Pandemic until somebody comes up with something better. No wait. “Great”? That sounds too much like something the Orange Clown would say, so we need something else. Please submit your nominations for this crisis’ name that will be repeated for decades and centuries to come.

Anyway … yesterday, I got to participate in a Zoom meeting with a group of friends. Today, another group of friends is doing the same thing. A former co-worker offered short meditation sessions on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in the break room. She’s now moved her sessions to Zoom as well and those who want can now participate virtually. We do what we have to, right?

My baking took a couple of days off, but I’m back at it this weekend. Just made some pizza dough for use for dinner tomorrow or Monday. I’m refreshing my sourdough starter to make some English muffins tomorrow morning. We just got an Insta-Pot, so that’s a new toy to experiment with. Although looking at the recipes for it, I’m not sure what the big deal is. It may shorten the cooking time a bit, but other than that, I don’t see what the difference is.

Life goes on and what I really want to talk about is this. I see a lot of bloggers and Twitterers and others talking about how the pandemic has shown how fundamentally things need to change in this country. And most of them are of a particular bent. They are pushing Medicare for All, a universal basic income, etc. Yes, it’s the socialists who are pushing the need for fundamental change.

I get it. I believe that there is a need for fundamental change, but unlike the socialists who believe that a governing revolution is needed, I believe the change begins with each of us. I look at it this way.

Generally speaking, we have become an incredibly selfish, spoiled, consumption-driven people. We have to have our Starbucks every morning, our Chipotle for lunch, and take out or dine-in food for dinner. We pay for half a dozen streaming services and companies like Disney create their own service that creates exclusive content that people feel they just have to pay for. So we have to keep adding to what we pay for. We have to buy a new phone every two years. This list could go on and on and on. We are bombarded with endless ads and pressure to buy more, buy more, buy more. Part of the problem is that everybody is doing it and there’s the old fear of missing out. If everybody else gets Starbucks and a new phone and the other NEW thing than we have to have it too. The things we “need” drain our pockets of valuable treasure. And it’s never, ever enough. There is always more.

Instead of being satisfied with the basics and a few luxuries that speak to us, we are in a constant search for more. I’ll never claim to be immune to this or better than others in this regard. I have a Chromebook and a laptop, I’ve purchased four Kindles over the years, and we end up getting a new smartphone every two years (but it’s primarily because they magically seem to stop working right around that two year mark). I have my food addictions as well.

While I was working, I went through phases where I had to get a breakfast pastry from LaBou every day. It would last for weeks and months before I was able to kick the habit every now and then. For years, I had my daily Pepsi at lunch, and all too frequently I got lunch out instead of bringing leftovers from home. And then there’s my beer habit.

So, I get it. There’s some comfort we derive from these things and these products. But what if we changed our dynamic and found comfort in other things. For instance … during the Great Isolation (maybe that’s the name for it?), people are walking and hiking and running more. My neighborhood is filled with walkers these days. And I’ve heard anecdotally that people are baking more. That store shelves are empty of yeast. And cooking more. Why is this happening? Because we have no choice at the moment. And that lack of choice is pushing many us towards more healthy habits that are actually better for us mentally and physically. Habits that are also much cheaper than those we practiced for years without really thinking about it. The inability to do much of anything is doing wonders for the balance in my checking account.

Yes, I’m willing to bet that there is also a growth in unhealthy habits as well — more booze, more drugs, more abuse, for instance. But my point here is not to dwell on the negatives, but rather the options we have to make positive changes in the way we live our lives. How what is happening is showing us a path to better lives in which we don’t focus on stuff. Families are spending more time together, if only because they have to. But there are so many good stories out there about how this is bringing people together.

If I do the math, my breakfast pastry, Pepsi, and lunch out habits cost thousands of dollars every year. If I add in my beer budget, well … I’d be a very rich man. I’m not suggesting that when things return to “normal” that we should forsake these things entirely, but maybe we can begin to recharacterize what we “need” to have. To take a little more personal responsibility over the decisions we make that have both a short and long term effect on our ability to care for ourselves.

I have two sons who are in their 20s. Over the course of the last two weeks, they have both been laid off. My older son lost his restaurant job two weeks ago. My younger son had two jobs. He lost the first a little over a week ago, and the other job a couple of days ago. The good news is that my older son got a new job within a week and starts this coming Monday. My younger son immediately started looking for a new job and hopefully will find one soon.

The other good news is that in recent months, they were able to save enough money that they will likely be okay at least through the end of April, if not a little longer. The bad news? With the federal stimulus money increasing unemployment benefits for the short term, they might actually be better off not working. But to me, that simply isn’t an option. It is far better to work than to not.

The first, second and third person who is responsible for you is you, you, and you. Government assistance should be a last option, not the first thing we turn to. If we would only change our habits and turn away from the way we have been conditioned to keep consuming endlessly and excessively, we just might have more capability to care for ourselves and not expect the government to do it for us.

There are other ways in which there needs to be fundamental change. I do believe our health care system needs to be torn down and rebuilt. But more important than any of this is a change in our corporate culture. Corporations and businesses across the spectrum need to put the interests of their employees and their communities ahead of the interests of their shareholders and their executives. There was a time when this was the case, and we need to return to it. For far too long, we have allowed Wall Street to dominate our country in a way that benefits a few, while destroying the many. As I’ve said in other forums and conversations, the corporate rape of America needs to end. Now. That is where the change needs to happen. In the boardrooms and offices of corporate America.

If socialism and universal health care were the answer to a crisis like we are currently facing, than China would not have been a hot spot. Nor would Italy have been. Some socialist countries are doing a piss poor job of testing and providing honest information about what is happening in their countries.

No, the change doesn’t come from the government. The change that is needed comes from each of us. Are you up to it?

 

Reporting From the Apocalypse (3)

After journeying out into the world a couple of days ago, I’ve been home the last couple of days. Well, except for a short errand today. I needed a small piece of plastic for our pool sweep and, wouldn’t you know, the pool supply store is open. Because keeping our pools clean is apparently an essential thing. (Meanwhile, my wife called the dog groomer and was told they were closed because they are non-essential.)

Today was one of my more productive days this month, I think. I got the plastic part, completed the minor repair. No, really, it was really minor. So minor, I shouldn’t even be talking about it. And then I mowed the lawn.

The mowing of the lawn is a more serious endeavor than it might sound. Because of the issues I have with my knee, I’m trying to stay away from any kind of significant physical activity. Yes, just mowing the lawn is significant physical activity when it comes to my knee. But, it has to be done.

I also did my son’s taxes for him. Next up, my parents. And finally, at some point in the future, my own taxes. I’m putting mine off because I know I will have to write a check to Uncle Sam. Why bother now. With the 90-day extension, I’ll likely wait a bit for our own taxes.

And then … I applied for a job. Crap. What’s the point in retiring if you have to apply for another job. But here’s the problem. I retired on a knife’s edge of financial stability. March 2020 and the pandemic has shaken my financial foundation. My deferred comp investment account has likely lost a third of its value in the last couple of weeks, and it wasn’t super healthy to begin with. I was also planning on doing some consulting work, but I just don’t know if I can count on that at the moment. With nobody doing anything, who needs consultants to help them figure out how to do nothing?

So, I applied for a job. As an attorney for the Small Business Administration. We’ll see what happens. A very low level position, but I’m good with that. In fact, if I have to keep doing legal work, it’s the kind of thing I’d prefer. The less responsibility the better. Let me just be a cog in the wheel.

And then I applied for mortgage relief. I don’t think I will really need it, but why not, if it all makes sense. Relieve some of the financial pressure and breathe a little more. Without any consulting work lined up, our financial situation does get murky. Not extremely so, at least not yet, but there is trouble lurking nonetheless.

The problem is this … the deal basically is a forbearance instead of a deferment, which means that as soon as the forbearance period is up, the entire amount that wasn’t paid immediately becomes due. Unless the mortgage holder is willing to negotiate a payment plan or restructured loan to spread the balance due over a longer period of time.

In other words, this relief really isn’t relief at all. Unless the mortgage holder realizes that forcing immediate payment is going to be a whole lot of hurt for them. And I think these companies have learned from the 2009 economic downturn that being hard asses about these things may not have turned out well for them.

But … do I want to take that chance? I don’t know. I’ve applied and will make a decision once I learn if I’m approved.

What’s up for tomorrow? I think I’m going to do some painting. And, like every day, I’m going to do some writing — yeah, sure, I’m going to do some writing. Likely when hell freezes over. That’s my mountain. The one I climb every day, only to fall back to the bottom. I have yet to figure out how to crack the door open to a daily practice. I’m kind of, sort of, okay with it for now. But at some point soon, I need to figure out a way to sit down and write. Every day.

Here’s the thing — the things I did today were in some respects a step in that direction. I’ve been telling myself for weeks to get my kid’s taxes done. I got it done today. I’ve been looking at the lawn every day for the last week … and I got it done today. Same too with the minor pool repair. These are all things that I’ve been putting off and putting off and putting off some more. That I got those things done today, and more, is a good sign.

Let’s see if I can expand that to a few more things tomorrow.

 

Reporting From the Apocalypse (2)

The sourdough I displayed in my last post served its purpose. One loaf was delivered t,o neighbors who provide us with honey from their backyard beehives. One was used for a sandwich, one of the roasted garlic/asiago loaves went well with the raviolis, and the last one gave its life up for French toast with fresh blueberries.

So, now, it’s on to other things.

During the Great Quarantining, I’ve been homebound for the most part. I wouldn’t mind getting out more, but with my knee curtailing physical activity and with everything being closed, there’s really not much for me to do.  But I need to get out every few days just for my sanity. Today was one of those days. I decided to go check on my sick relative and then go to Trader Joe’s for a few things.

For those who don’t know, Trader Joe’s is a small grocery store. It’s kind of a trendy, popular place to get groceries that are typically of a better quality than you get at a regular grocery store. And typically reasonably priced.

Here’s what it looks like today…

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The orange tape is spaced six feet apart to encourage social distancing. The yellow sign alerts seniors that they can go to the head of the line from 9:00 – 10:00 A.M. They only let a small number of people in at a time. Hence, the line outside. Before you go in, you get a lecture about how things work inside. The carts are wiped down with disinfectant wipes before you get one and they offer hand sanitizer to each customer before they walk in.

In the store, the reduced numbers makes shopping much easier. And at the register, there is another strip of orange tape. Push your cart to the register and then stand at the line while they process and bag your groceries. Once done with that, step up to the payment terminal, swipe, get your receipt and cash back handed to you — being careful not to touch hand-to-hand, and you’re out the door.

The shelves were well-stocked. People were all very pleasant and supportive of each other.

Meanwhile … on to other news.

My older son lost his job last Monday. He worked at a San Diego branch of a large national restaurant chain. In San Diego, all restaurants were ordered closed, except for take-out. As a server, he was gone. He was provided with a guarantee that he’d have a job upon the return of normalcy — whatever that is.

He applied for unemployment and started looking for a job. A couple of days ago he had an interview with a company that does Amazon deliveries. He didn’t hear back from them. But last night he got a call from Vons — a grocery store chain. He was scheduled for an interview at 3:30 and at exactly 3:44 he called his mom to let us know he got the job.

I am so proud of him for not choosing a path of laziness and giving up. Instead, he got it done. Love you, kiddo. You’ve done well.

Reporting in From the Apocalypse

Last weekend, a friend asked for some of my sourdough starter. To honor his request, I had to get it out of the fridge and refresh it a bit. I did that this week and took him 1 1/2 cups of starter on Thursday and with what I had left I started my own sourdough production for the weekend.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years, after almost 30 years of making bread, is the value of a long, slow rise. I made the dough Thursday night and put it in the fridge for that long, slow rise. There is something about two days of cooled down, slow rise that improves the crust and the texture of the bread. It’s what I do with my pizza dough when I plan ahead.

So, I made the bread this morning. Two loaves for sandwiches and two loaves with roasted garlic and asiago cheese. I’ll just say that the bread with the roasted garlic and asiago is very possibly one of the best things ever.

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One of the loaves served as the vehicle for my lunch time sandwich today. One of the roasted garlic/asiago loaves was a part of dinner.

And speaking of dinner …

Sacramento has a high-end grocery store that has been here pretty much since the beginning of time. Corti’s has this incredible deli counter and meat/fish counter. A huge wine area and all sorts of little surprises up and down the aisles.

I remember my mom getting raviolis and sauce from Corti’s every now and then when I was a kid. I mentioned this to her a few years back and she had absolutely no memory of doing so, but I’m sure she did. I have such distinct memories of the raviolis coming in a box and the sauce in a plastic container. The raviolis were perforated but still joined together (if that makes any sense) for easy tearing apart to throw in the boiling water. It’s just one of those memories I have.

As an adult, I’ve gone back to that only occasionally. The thing about a high-end grocery store is … yeah, high prices.

Yesterday, the Queen Midget stopped at Corti’s and got some of the raviolis and sauce. Here’s the box. Sorry, no picture of dinner. But it was good and it was just like I remembered. The perforated raviolis in the box, the sauce remains the same. All these decades later, nothing has changed.

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(where the heck did that inhaler come from?)

“Never Happened Before”

One of President Trump’s constant lines in his press conferences about the pandemic is that this has never happened before. Well, yeah, sure. The Spanish Flu in 1918 infected an estimated third of the entire world population, and killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million people around the world.

Or the Black Death of the 14th century, which killed an estimated 75 to 125 million people. That’s right. Killed somewhere around 25% of the entire world population at the time.

But it’s never happened before. On a certain level, he’s right. Society back in the 14th century and in the early 20th century wasn’t where it is today. Medical care was nothing like it was today. On the other hand, people back then didn’t travel like they do now, so spread would have been far more difficult back then. So yes, a pandemic like this has never happened before — with the higher quality health care we have, the vastly larger amount of resources we can bring to bear to battle the virus, and with the inter-connected world in which we live where travel is so prevalent.

Anyway, during his press conference today he first used the phrase “never happened before” to describe the bipartisan efforts in Congress that are pushing forward with the relief package that will be somewhere between one and two trillion dollars. He’s kind of right, but he’s almost entirely wrong.

He’s kind of right, because it may be that such a relief effort was never needed before and, therefore, it might have never happened before. But what he’s really getting at is that the bipartisan effort to push this through as quickly as possible is unprecedented.

Which is … 1,000% wrong. And to the extent that he’s right it’s because in recent history, during times of crisis, Republican elected officials have refused to set aside their partisanship to achieve what is best for America.

When Clinton was President and sought to tame federal deficits, a balanced budget plan was developed. Not a single member of the Republican Party voted for it. When 9/11 happened, Democrats set aside party and supported a Republican President in a lot of different areas. Many of those Democrats have suffered politically ever since for what are viewed now as mistakes made back then — like Biden voting to support the Iraq War.

And when the last economic crisis occurred at the tail end of the GWB Presidency, many Republicans refused to support his relief proposals. Fortunately, enough did that those efforts were successful. And also fortunately, when Obama was elected and pushed through additional relief efforts to save the country from another depression, Republicans were in lock step, opposed to everything Obama tried to do. The Republican Party famously became the “Party of No” with Obama’s election.

So, yes, there’s a reason why bipartisan efforts have gone the way of the dodo bird in recent history. When a crisis occurs, requiring bipartisan efforts, Democrats step up. Regardless of who the President is, regardless of who is in the majority or the minority, Democrats put aside partisanship. Sadly, we can’t say the same for Republican politicians of the last 30 years. They have become a group that puts party and agenda ahead of country.

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