Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women in Combat

This morning I sat down for a few minutes and watched celebrities on the View dither about the Army’s decision to let women become “combat” soldiers.  After listening for a couple of minutes to Elizabeth’s chatter, praising women who will “fight bravely on the front lines,” I turned off the television.

All the furore is just too silly.  When and where are these “front lines” expected to be?  What will be the battle formations of the future?

During World War II, we fought the Germans in traditional battles.  I knew a man who was wounded on the front line in the Battle of the Bulge.  That war ended in 1945.  Armies do not fight that kind of battles any more.  The Germans are now our friends.  They sell us their cars, Mercedes and BMW’s.

The time has passed for two armies to line up against each other and slug it out. We should have learned in Vietnam.  We didn’t.  We sent our Army to fight in Iraq, but there were no battles.  Our enemies planted roadside bombs and blew up our boys, one Humvee at a time.

We still have to deal with terrorists.  Even as women join men on the “front line,” the biggest Army in the World was helpless against eleven fanatical Arabs who highjacked planes and killed more Americans in one day than were killed in ten years of “fighting” in Afghanistan.

In the New Yorker, James Surowiecki describes the “sunk-cost effect.”  As he explains, “This means that we often end up sticking with something when we’d be better off cutting our losses – sitting through a bad movie, say, just because we’ve paid for the ticket.”

We wasted trillions on “defense,.” starting with the Cold War.  We were taught to be afraid of the Russians, while the Russians lived in terror that we would attack them.  Our government lied about the “missile gap.”   As an article in The Atlantic points out, “Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America’s huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.”      

We aimed missiles as Moscow from England and put more along the Russian border in Turkey.  That’s when Khrushchev sent missiles to Cuba.   Kennedy let people think it was his show of strength which caused the Russians to withdraw.  Actually, he made a secret deal to pull our missiles out of Turkey, which was what Khrushchev wanted in the first place. 

The U.S. spends as much on “defense” as the rest of the World combined.  Why?  China does not want to go to war with us.  Lose their best customer?  No way!

Faced with threats from the U.S., Russia bankrupted its economy.  That, not our huge stockpile of weapons, is what ended the Cold War.  I fear we are following the same path as the Soviets.  . We face an economic crisis, and the war hawks say, “Don’t cut the defense budget!”  No, they would cut Social Security and Medicare instead.  That’s our esteemed Congress.  That’s criminal. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Paper Chase

I flew to Europe many times, earning ”bonus” mileage.  I used mileage for tickets to bring Martha’s sons, Ric and Joe, from Chicago to Texas during spring break.  I do not know if the boys enjoyed spending a week with the old lady, but Martha was grateful that she did not have to worry about what the teenagers were doing while school was out and she was working.  

Another time I got tickets for Martha and me to fly to an Elderhostel in Pennsylvania.  We saw magnificent gardens at Longview and Winterthur, then – quite a contrast – visited an Amish farm.  When I arrived at the Philadelphia airport for my return flight, the airline offered me a $300 voucher to wait for a later flight.  Best deal I ever made.  I got to fly back to Dallas first class and used the $300 for a trip to Chicago.  A free trip on top of a free trip!  

Now that I am on dialysis every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I can not go anywhere.  It is a big event when someone – David, Martha, or Doug – drives me to Fort Worth or Decatur for a day out.     

Last year I received a notice from American Airlines that I had 10,000 “miles” that would expire on March 31.  Not enough to get a free airline ticket. I used the “mileage” for magazine subscriptions.  I already subscribed to TIME and the New Yorker, which come every week, and the monthly Smithsonian.  Now my mailbox is stuffed with a bunch of publications which I don’t have time to read. 

Next to the dining table is a stack of Harper’s which I have not opened.  The weekly copies of Baron’s go into the box of papers to be recycled.  Ditto Bloomberg Markets.

I transferred the Wall Street Journal subscription to my son Karl.  He has no money – he lives on S.S.I. and food stamps – but he considers himself an expert on everything.  I hope he enjoys reading the Journal and writing letters of complaint to the editor.  It is a family habit.

Then there is The Atlantic. 

I picked up the January-February issue, planning to skim through the pages.  Then I read a fascinating article, “What’s Inside America’s Banks?” – How Wall Street could blow up the economy again.  Then there was “Awake Under the Knife” focusing on anesthesia and the mystery of consciousness.  Finally, the one that haunts me, “The Real Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Do I really want to let my subscription to the Atlantic expire in March?  I have not decided.  Newsweek stopped its print edition; I used to read that during dialysis on Fridays.  The Atlantic comes only eight or ten times a year. . . . But sometimes I feel I am drowning in paper.

I should have time to read.  I will not be taking any trips.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Flu Season

Even if you get your news from Fox TV, you know about the flu epidemic.  Children have died.  That’s tragic.  No one I know has succumbed.  Not as far as I know.

Around here old people have been sick.  Herb, whose apartment is next door on the left, coughed for a week.  So did Everett, my neighbor on the right.  Mariam, my fiend and bridge partner, was sick and did not leave her apartment for two weeks.  But we are not sure if it is the flu or just a bad cold.  We call it “the crud.” 

I got sick, too.  A week ago I spent Friday night coughing, feeling miserable, gagging and throwing up.  I took that in stride, as I sometimes feel that way after dialysis.  But when I felt queasy all day on Saturday, I realized I caught the crud.

Sunday I moped all day.  I had to go down to the second floor and wash clothes.  I had no clean underwear or washcloths.  Monday morning I called the dialysis center and said, “I’m sick.”  The nurse said, “Come in.  We’ll put a mask on you.”

On Tuesday I gave up.  I did not wash my face.  I did not make my bed.  I filled Charlie’s food bowl but did not scoop out his litter box.  I sat in my recliner all day.  I even called downstairs and had David, our efficient and ubiquitous waiter, bring my lunch on a tray.  Charlie sat on my lap for hours, keeping me company while the television droned nonsense and I dozed. 

By afternoon, while watching Dr. Phil advise a dysfunctional family, I felt pretty good.  Doing nothing all day brought recovery.  I loved sitting there doing nothing.  As it turned out, it was as pleasant a day as I experienced for – weeks?  months?  Now I know the meaning of “relaxation.”  
Wednesday was dialysis; Thursday was catchup day.  I sorted mail which piled up since Friday, threw out catalogs and appeals from charities I never will give to.  I checked my VISA bill and agreed I owed all that money, opened my bank statement and – wonder of wonders –
my checkbook balanced.  Even after paying that VISA bill, I have money in the bank  Why do I need to worry?

Now it is another Saturday.  The bed is made, dishes done.  Charlie, taken care of, sleeps on the bed behind me.  I spent the day reading magazines that staked up when I was too tired to read.  Found a clutch of interesting articles  I’ll share with Everett and John Q.  (There is also a John T., who is a nice little man who gives no indication of being a reader.) .

I can not change the World, but I can vent my opinions.  Some of the things I read about, I’ll share with you in future blogs.  If I can find time to post them.  After I take time for relaxation.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

We Were Seven

My grandson Doug is one of the few recent college graduates who has a job.  He graduated in June with a degree in engineering.  He is working for a utility company in Decatur, Illinois.  He has his own apartment and is having a great time on weekends going “swing dancing” in nearby Champaign-Urbana. 

His mother – my daughter Martha – frets about his future.  She urges him to set up a 401K to start saving for retirement! 

That is a good idea. 

But I warn Doug: Life is full of surprises.  Among the many old people I know, no one says their life turned out exactly as they expected when they were young.

Take the “girls” I met at Texas State College for Women.  Bill Hill called it the “Old Maid Factory.”  We were seven young women, all but one preparing for careers, as we feared no one would ever want to marry any of us dowdy young scholars. 

The exception was Norma, a pretty girl with long brown hair and a sweet smile.  She had a sweetheart in the Navy who wrote to her every week.  She came into the room after supper, her face glowing, saying, “I have a letter from John.”  While the rest of us played bridge, Norma sat in the corner reading and reading her love letters. 

Norma majored in home economics.  She made her silk wedding dress, and in jewelry class, she fashioned wedding rings for herself and John.  Two weeks after graduation they were married.  I was a bridesmaid in the ceremony in the Methodist Church in her hometown, Weatherford, Texas.

That marriage lasted two years. 

I was the next to marry.  I moved to Chicago, where my first child, Karl, was born.  When the baby was five months old, I took him to Texas to visit my family.  Norma came to see me.  In my parents’ living room, I sat in an arm chair with the baby on my lap, and Norma sat on the couch next to her fiancĂ©, Byron.   

In the following years the rest of us married, and six of us became mothers.  All Norma ever wanted to be was a wife and mother.  She had two children, David and Ellen.  Her daughter married and, to her delight, Norma became a grandmother of an adored little girl.  Tragically, Norma and Byron’s son David is schizophrenic.  Now in his 40's, he has a job, but he lives with his parents and will never be able to function independently. 

Like other parents with a mentally ill child, Norma became obsessed with searching for a cause. She went back to TSCW (now Texas Woman’s University) and studied the effect of environment on health.  This woman, the least scholarly of our seven, earned a Ph.D. and became a consultant on avoiding environmental hazards in schools. 

Norma experimented with herbal medicine and took heaps of vitamin pills and nutritional supplements.  She and I went together to a college reunion.  She refused to ride in my Oldsmobile because the upholstery had a “noxious” new car smell.  She gulped down a handful of pills, saying, “I take care of my health.”

Norma died this week.  Her husband, Byron Miller, was with her to the end.  The funeral is today at the Methodist Church where they were married in a quiet ceremony in the pastor’s study more than 50 years ago.  She and Byron lived in Fort Worth, my hometown, which I left 60 years ago.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bridge Games

At 6 p.m. tonight I will go downstairs to play bridge with three other old ladies, or maybe with two old ladies and a younger man.  Life is full of changes, and the story of my bridge playing is an example.

I had not played bridge for more than a quarter century when I moved into this retirement home. Many of the people who live here grew up in fundamentalist Christian homes (as I did) and were told that card playing was a sin, along with dancing. drinking “strong spirits”, and going to movies on Sunday.  They do not play bridge.

I learned to play bridge in a little club I belonged to in high school.  In college we played a few hands every night, laying the cards out on a bed in the dorm after supper. For years after that wherever I lived, I played regularly.  Just like an alcoholic or compulsive gambler.

Wally liked to play bridge.  When we lived in Michigan, he played with men on the train while commuting to downtown Detroit.  After we returned to Chicago, we played as partners in couples’ clubs.  I also met twice a month with seven other women for lunch and bridge.  That was in the 1970's.  At Christmas I heard from two of those friends.  

I married John, and my bridge playing ceased for many years.  He did not play any card games except Black Jack.  We went to Las Vegas.  John went down to the tables early every morning while I was still sleeping.  When he came back to wake me up, he always claimed to have won enough to buy me breakfast.

Years later I moved into this retirement home.  I lived here for two years without even thinking about playing bridge.  Then Doris moved into an apartment downstairs.  She was an avid bridge player, spending hours every day playing bridge on the computer.  She recruited me, Sue, and Mariam.  Sue, originally from Mississippi, is still dark-haired at 82.  Mariam, who grew up on an Illinois farm, plays a mean game at age 91.  We played on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.  Old ladies go to bed early.
Stacy wanted to play, too, so we added a second game on Thursdays.  At 6 feet, 8 inches, this former basketball player is young enough to be our son.  Now confined by Parkinson’s, Stacy comes barreling in his electric wheelchair.  When he puts his size 14 shoes under the table, three pairs of ladies’s feet are pushed back under our chairs.  

We ladies are all conservative in our bidding.  None of us gets upset if the cards do not play out the way we want them to.  Stacy still has not learned that even if he has seven cards in one suit, he can not win if none of them are face cards.  It makes for some interesting hands.

As suddenly as she moved in, Doris moved out.  After she left, Pat came to live here, and the Tuesday and Thursday games continue.

Doris was a like a whirlwind, which blows in, stirs things up, and vanishes, leaving behind a calm.  I doubt if we would be playing bridge if Doris had not brought us together.  I am grateful to her.  Bridge games brought us together, and we who remain have become good friends.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Down Memory Lane

I wanted to copy a New Yorker cartoon.  I carried the magazine into my second bedroom-office and opened the printer.  Oops!   Lying on the glass of the printer in a neat little row were my Texas driver’s license and my Medicare and insurance cards. 

How did that happen? I made copies of the documents for my new primary care doctor and forgot to take them out of the printer.  That was three weeks ago.  For three weeks I drove around Dallas and Garland blissfully unaware that I did not have my driver’s license in my purse. 

For years my friend Marjorie has asked, “Are you still driving?”

I always was a better driver than Marjorie.  She gave up driving after she ran a stop sign and crashed into the side of another car.  I am still driving on that raceway, Dallas’s 635 Expressway.  

I used to be an excellent driver.  Twenty years ago I drove on the autobahn as confidently as a German, evaded crazy Italians in Italy, and avoided clashing with the French in horrendous Paris traffic.  Even more challenging were the batty Britains.  In 1996 I drove Marjorie all over England and Scotland on the wrong side of the road.  At the end of the trip, Marjorie said, “Ilene, you are an excellent driver.  The proof of it is that we are both still alive.”

But driving without a license?  How did I know no one would smash into me? 

My Hyundai has been badly damaged twice.  Both times the car was standing still.  The first time was in a parking lot at Kroger’s when a little old man in a big pickup truck tried to make a U-turn into the space next to my car.  He smashed up the rear door and fender on the driver’s side.  His insurance paid $1,000 to have a body shop make the repairs.   

The second time was last February.  I was stopped behind a small black car in the left lane on Shiloh Road, waiting for the traffic light to turn green.  The light changed and the black car moved out.  I started to drive forward, but with little more than a car length between us, the cab of an enormous truck turned in front of me from the right-hand lane.  I hit the brakes and sat still, watching in horror as the extra-long trailer came closer and closer until with a loud screech it scraped off the passenger side of my car. 

The truck’s driver was a 69-year-old trainee, trying to make a wide right turn.  He did not see me and failed to yield the right-of-way. The damage was so severe that the trucking company’s insurance company totaled my car.  It took two months to convince them to pay me enough to have the car repaired.  

Who could predict something like this would not happen again?  If it does, I will need to pull my license out of my purse to prove I can drive legally, even if I am so old I should consider giving it up.  Texas – and the World – is full of crazy, careless, and incompetent people.  Maybe I am one of them. 

Neither my driving nor my memory is as good as it used to be.  My problem is not knowing I forgot.  Until something turns up to remind me, like a driver’s license lying on the printer, I will never know.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Twelth Night

    January 6 is the official – well, traditional – end of the holidays.  The last of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The day the three wise men finally made it to Bethlehem with their gifts to the Christ Child.  The night St. Nicholas filled Dutch children’s wooden shoes with goodies.  The date the Christmas Elf brought toys to children in Norway.  The last delivery of pipers, milkmaids, swans, leaping lords, and the Partridge in a Pear Tree.

    And what am I doing on this January 6? 

    Trying to find the energy to resume all the activities I put on hold while making pointless visits to doctors in the last few months.  Routine visits to dentist and eye doctor: no cavities and no need for new glasses.  Pain in my arm sent me from vascular surgeon (no problem with blood flow) to neurologist (nerves okay) to hospital for Doplar (neck artery open).  Perhaps I have carpel tunnel (due to all the typing I do).  Or maybe I am just old.

    My daughter Martha came to see me for a few days after Christmas.  She and her brother David are in similar situations, Martha in Illinois, David in California.  Both have important, successful careers.  They make lots of money.  What mother wouldn’t be proud? 

    I worry about my son and daughter.  Both work 60 hours a week and are stressed out, trying to find time for their families and with no time just to sit back and chill out. 

    I remember the frantic years when I was a working mother.  I also remember years when I was not working, when my children were little.  I was NOT a stay-at-home Mom.  Wherever we lived, the children and I went places and had fun. We went to state fairs in Michigan and Texas, to museums in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  We produced puppet shows and plays in the basement, clothes-line art shows in the backyard.  Rainy days we played monopoly or worked jigsaw puzzles.  We went tent camping, just the kids and me.

    And I still had time to read novels – and write a few – be a Girl Scout leader, Cub Scout den mother, take an active part in the League of Women Voters, and play bridge with AAUW friends, plus church work. 

    It is sad that today’s millions of working mothers have no time to play with their children.  For most, the income is necessary.  But is it really? 

    As for me, I now have no responsibility for anyone else.  How I spend my time is up to me.  So far my new January 2013 calendar is blank.  I refuse to accept any doctor appointments until February.  And I’ll post blogs only after I’ve caught up on other activities.

    Today I sat in my recliner with Charlie in my lap and read the Dec. 24 & 31 New Yorker.  Among the cartoons I found one that will be my motto for 2013.  A New Year’s Eve party, with balloons and champagne.  A man in a funny hat lifts his glass and says, “Here’s to even lower expectations in the New Year.”  

    To Hell with all the things we “should” do.  Let’s have fun.