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  • January 2, 2021

    Good-Bye 2020; Hello 2021

    WE KICKED CORONAVIRUS’ ASS!

    As many people know, I have been an outspoken skeptic on the coronavirus lockdown of the country. It’s long past time for folks to go back to work, for restaurants and bars to reopen, and for factories, and farms to once again start supplying the basic needs.

    At the same time, Carmela and I have been very careful how we live and how we relate to other people – mostly because of my age and health. And that has been our attitude. High-risk people – whether because of age or other factors – should take whatever steps they needed to protect themselves. Everybody else should get back to work.

    And some people have. Grocery workers, whether cashiers or truck drivers, have been showing up every day, wearing masks, and making sure people can get the food they need to survive. Doctors and nurses have been manning the front lines at hospitals; many construction workers have also been on the job, and so have other blue-collar folks, such as longshore and warehouse workers.

    Lots white collar workers have been able to perform their duties from home, avoiding the long commutes and the need for a downtown office – an idea that may gain new credence after the coronavirus lockdown has past.

    Most teachers and other unionized government workers have continued to draw a paycheck even if they have not been doing any work.

    Carmela and I are retired, so earning a living is not an issue. But other things are. In my age group and with my pre-existing medical conditions, the coronavirus would be a death sentence – or so we thought. Then in December – 12 days after my 80th Birthday – I went to an oral surgeon for a root canal.

    Without getting into details, this guy was clearly frazzled, not tracking very well, and inserting all kinds of tools into my mouth and a probe into my gums. We left there and vowed never to return.

    Two days later, I developed a sore throat, a cold, and severe body aches. Two days after that, so did Carmela. The final diagnosis, we both had the dreaded coronavirus. And guess what. We are both still here, although I still have the sniffles and Carmela has temporarily lost her sense of smell – which is a tough thing for a woman who loves to cook.

    But we overcame the coronavirus and that’s something for which to be very thankful. And we are.

    2020 may have been a terrible year, but we survived it. So here is to 2021. It’s got to be better than the year just past.

    Or is that just wishful thinking?

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

     

  • November 28, 2020

    Old Age

    TODAY I TURN 80. IF LIFE WAS A CHESS MATCH, THIS WOULD BE THE TIME TO START PLANNING THE END GAME. BUT FUCK THAT! LIFE IS NOT A CHESS MATCH. LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE. BALLS OUT TO THE END. THAT’S MY PLAN, AND I’M STICKING TO IT.

     

     

  • October 7, 2020

    REQUIEM FOR A TREE

    BEFORE

    We loved that 40-foot-high pine tree that shaded our patio all morning long, that provided a home to humming birds and sparrows, a high perch for crows and ravens to survey their domain, and a place for bugs and small critters that were a source of food for those birds. The tree grew in our neighbor’s yard, but we considered ourselves stakeholders in its presence.

    We would gather beneath its sheltering boughs for morning coffee and conversation, our dog Henry would curl up on his outside bed and snooze, as we plotted new adventures, traded the latest neighborhood gossip, and poured more coffee.

    But now our tree is gone, taking with it its welcome shade, the trill of the birds, and the majestic boughs that swung back and forth in the breeze above our heads. Our patio suddenly seems naked, exposed to the harsh and blinding rays of the morning sun.

    The removal of the tree was sudden with little time to say good-bye. Our neighbors showed up at the door to announce the tree was coming down that day.

    We had to leave that morning to meet our nieces and nephew for ice cream in Huntington Beach, and by the time we returned not only was the tree gone, but the branches that hung over our patio had been allowed to fall into our flower bed, crushing the plants below, including a Birthday rose – one of two that were a gift from Henry and me to my wife.

    The workmen, who were still busy digging out roots, did not speak English, and we don’t beat up on employees, when the person we need to be yelling at is their boss.

    AFTER

    The removal of the tree left us both sad and disappointed, but that’s how it is when an old friend departs. You tend to forget all the bad things that went along with the good.

    The deep shade of the tree made it difficult to grow our own flowers and plants, and the labyrinth of giant roots that supported the tree was slowly destroying the fence separating our backyard from the neighbors and undermining the foundation of our home. And some point in the future, those roots would also damage the plumbing that provides our water and destroy the underground system that drains away our waste – amenities that people nowadays take for granted.

    There also was the daily onslaught of dead pine needles that showered down in our yard, pine needles that had to be swept off our patio daily, pine needles that lodged in the nooks and crannies of everything, spiny debris that fell across young flowers struggling to break through to the light, pine needles that defied attempts to rake them up without damaging all that grew beneath them.

    And when the wind blew hard and strong as it often does in the pass between Mount San Gorgonio and Mount Jacinto, the boughs of the pine would whip back and forth, sending a shower of needles to cover our backyard with a thick prickly carpet of green and brown. If the tree were to snap, as a number have in the pass area, an obvious target would be not only our backyard but our home as well.

    Still, an old friend is gone, and a new day begun.

    After the tree came down we went to Lowes to buy a backyard umbrella, $150 plus with a concrete stand to anchor it to the ground. A poor substitute for the cooling boughs of the old pine and the constant twitter and trills from its inhabitants, but sufficient to provide a modicum of shade.

    We are still digging pine needles out of the cracks and crannies of the backyard, but there is no daily onslaught of their spiny fallout.

    Life goes on.

    Not for the big tree, but hopefully the avian and insect creatures that called the tree home, will find new places to inhabit – hopefully in our yard.

    Carmela, Henry, and I are still here, Carmela and I still drinking coffee in the morning and arguing about life, politics, and our next big adventure, while Henry snoozes on his bed.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • May 27, 2020

    The Power of Magical Thinking

    Photo by djwtwo on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

    Americans believe in magic. And why wouldn’t we? We lead lives of such privilege and prosperity that we have come to think of our place of dominance in the world and our style of life as a God-given right.

    There may be places in the world where people are starving, where disease is rampant, and where human beings are killing one another in savage ways over nothing more than differences of opinion in how they worship. But not here. Not in America.

    We’re special. And we have a government that is going to take care of us, no matter what.

    That’s magical thinking. The truth is that the government can’t give us anything that it doesn’t take from us first. A bug from China (in fact, for the nitpickers, a submicroscopic infectious agent, not literally a bug) is infecting people, making them sick and sometimes even killing them – especially those who are old or in ill health to begin with.

    So what do we do? Exactly what the government tells us to do. We lock ourselves away, and huge numbers of us start getting paid to do nothing. But, no matter how dangerous the virus may be, this can only go on for so long.

    Right now – more than ten weeks into the shut down – many Americans keep insisting that we all stay home and that the economy stays locked up tight. To facilitate that, they’re expecting the government to keep making pay-outs to individuals and businesses – both big and small – to keep everything running.

    The funny thing is that a lot of those same Americans, who think they and almost everybody else should stay home, still want some of their countrymen to go to work. They’re thinking that the doctors and nurses in hospitals, the people who work in grocery stores, truck drivers who deliver food to supermarkets, and the farmers and ranchers who grow the food should still keep hustling their butts. It’s OK though, because they are very, very grateful. They are happy to put signs in their windows and applaud public service messages about what super heroes those people are who are expected to be at their jobs. It’s a big, hearty “thank you” to the folks on the front line.

    A lot of those “stay at home” people also want people who have been put out of work to get more money, they want everyone who wants to stay home to be compensated, and they want everybody on the government dole to get a raise. A BIG raise.

    The problem is this. There is no magic. The government cannot actually create wealth. It can only take it from the wealth-creators – also known as taxpayers. Of course, the government can always turn on the presses and print some more dollars, but those freshly inked pieces of paper only make the dollars we already have less valuable. In other words, they cause inflation, making it a lot harder for Americans to buy things like food and clothes and cars and houses and everything else.

    The economic shut down closed supply chains, food distribution lines, transportation services, government agencies and no end of other businesses that are required to get goods and services to the public.  Getting food to market has become so logistically difficult and expensive that dairymen are dumping milk and ranchers and farmers are losing money on animals that they cannot get to market because of packing-plant closures. All that dumped milk and stranded meat adds up to two things – a shortage of food in the markets and much higher prices on the food that does show up.

    So now steaks, Brussels sprouts, milk, chicken, and other items from soup to nuts is getting difficult to find and more expensive. And it’s going to get a lot worse – even after we open up the country. A shut-down supply chain takes a while to get back on track and up to speed.

    The problem is that people believe what they want to believe and politicians will always be there to support Americans’ magic fantasies in an attempt to curry favor in exchange for votes.

    Magical thinking goes far beyond the Corona virus.

    My brother-in-law, a retired sheriff’s deputy, says all his law enforcement buddies are solidly for Trump and are sure he is going to win. But he recognizes that his law-and-order buds don’t necessarily reflect the society as a whole.

    Not everybody is so perceptive.

    If you were to go my wife Carmela’s former office at UCLA, you would be surrounded by people who think Trump is so stupid there is no way he can win.

    We see what we want to see and believe what our friends and associates believe, so our view of the world tends to be somewhat skewed.

    Remember when Japanese auto makers began taking over the market back in the 70s and 80s. American auto executives were lulled into a sad sense of complacency when they looked out at their company parking lot and saw row after row of American cars. They tended to gloss over the fact that their employees were entitled to deep discounts on the cars they helped build – and so they bought those cars and filled up the company parking lots while much of the rest of America had started buying the Japanese cars.

    You see friends on Facebook, on both sides of the political divide, ranting about how stupid the other side is and reinforcing their own increasingly narrow point of view. Anybody who disagrees, even slightly, is instantly pummeled for his or her political blasphemy.

    It’s both ugly and crazy. Here are the plain and unmagical facts.

    The economy must immediately open and start producing goods and services to get those 30 million newly unemployed people off the government dole – and back to paying taxes.

    The government must stop printing money and handing it out like drunken sailors.

    And while we’re at it, we’ve all got to find a way to get along a little better. Disagreement is fine, and even healthy. Disrespect, acrimony and boorish screeching is not.

    The world is what it is. We can either get along and recognize our differences or break apart and engage in a holy war over politics, money and culture. There is no magic.

    And no amount of Abracadabra is going to change that.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • April 10, 2020

    ONCE HOT, NOW NOT

    ARE YOU READY BOOTS, START WALKING – Photo by x-ray delta one on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

    One of the nice things about getting old is having been a witness to how things used to be and how they are now.

    The older you get, the more you realize that what used to be cutting edge and cool, is now passé. Here are some things that people used to think were so cool, that now are terribly dated.

    Home Life:

    Did you ever try to get up from a bean bag chair after you’ve had a few drinks or perhaps been indulging in other substances that in the past could get you a shared cell with a biker named Bruno?

    The bean bag chair was, and is, a completely useless piece of furniture, except maybe for kids. And yet, as a young man, I thought bean bag chairs were quite bohemian and cutting edge – not unlike beaded curtains, macramé wall hangings, and home-made sand candles.

    It wasn’t just the young and stupid who defined the fashion of the day. Style was also defined by those old enough to know better.

    If you ever lived in a home with a sunken living room, you know it was really an accident waiting to happen, especially if you had been indulging in alcoholic beverages. That was even more likely, because a sign of success was having your own well-stocked wet bar with stools, a stock of various liquors, and beer on tap.

    We lived in a home at one time, in which the living room was one step down from the dining room. We worried all the time that a dinner guest would push his chair back to get up from the table and take a tumble onto the white shag carpet, one six-inch step below the dining room floor.

    The television set used to be a giant box that sat prominently in the middle of an open-faced “entertainment center” that also featured stereo speakers, an AM-FM tuner, a turntable for records, a VCR and later a CD player for watching home videos or featured films, all stored on a side shelf, usually behind etched glass doors. Waterbeds in the 60s weighed hundreds of pounds and had heated pads so you didn’t freeze as you sloshed through the night.

    And don’t get us started on the combination appliances – the stove, microwave, toaster oven, kitchen clock/timer all in one giant piece that required a major kitchen overhaul or replacement if any one of the elements went bad or became obsolete. And then there were the colors. Refrigerators used to be white, then for a period, avocado and gold became the kitchen colors of the day, before returning to white again and now stainless steel.

    Those were the good old days. Or were they?

    Fashion:

    Remember mini-skirts, afro hair styles, tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottom pants, caftans for entertaining at home, fruit boots, business suits for women with linebacker padded shoulders and a blouse that featured a giant loopy bow instead of a tie. There were perms for men, big bouffant hair for women, and tight leather pants and fanny packs for both.

    Many of these fashions – like all past passions – are still around, still embraced by folks who got stuck in a fashion time warp. Guys who are still carrying their cigarettes rolled up in a sleeve of their t-shirts, and old men and women still wandering around in tie-dyed shirts and shooting each other peace signs.

    Fashion used to be dictated either from where you lived – such as overalls, cowboy hats, and bandanas – or sometimes from influential designers in Paris who developed a following and dictated the latest look. It was an industry built on conspicuous consumption. The more expensive the line one wore, the bigger the boost in one’s status.

    Transportation:

    Since Henry Ford started producing the Model T in 1908 – making automobiles available to the common man – Americans have been in love with their cars. There is nothing better than the open road, the sound of an internal combustion engine coming to life, and power available just by pushing down on a gas pedal.

    A car isn’t just transportation. It is adventure; it is style; it is the freedom to go where you want, whenever you want, at the speed you want. You don’t have to sit on a bench waiting for a streetcar or bus, or at a train station platform waiting for a ride to take you to your destination. You jump into the car, turn on the key, and away you go.

    As cars grew more elegant, each had its own style. White-wall tires, fender skirts, fancy hubcaps, gleaming hood ornaments that sparkled in the sun and lots of chrome, on the front and the back and down the sides. Lovely, flashy, dangerous Detroit steel, destined as time went by to become the boxy automobiles of today – fiberglass and plastic bodies designed with an eye toward safety and fuel efficiency.

    The family station wagon, the sensible, safe, and boring version of the family sedan, was replaced by the mini-van.

    Now the burning public desire for power and fossil-fuel muscle has been taken up by the big pickup trucks – some of them jacked up so high that you need a step-stool to get inside.

    And yet, the love affair with the cars of the era lives on.

    Much of what used to be family road trips to explore the highways and byways of America has been replaced with airplanes. Air travel was once exclusive and exciting. People dressed up to get on a plane because not everybody could afford it.

    Now it has become a default way to travel, replacing buses and trains. What once was luxury has become agony with seats jammed as close together as physically possible and in-flight meals that are tasteless and expensive. Unless passengers are willing to pay big bucks for first class, they are lucky to get a bag of pretzels and a can of soda to ease their journey.

    Media:

    Before the internet, people used to read newspapers, books, and magazine articles printed on paper – both slick and pulp. They were able to do so because they were literate and had been taught at an early age to read and write.

    Every big city had news and magazine stands with publications from around the world and book stores full of fiction and non-fiction works. Lovers of the printed word could gather for hours, looking at what selections were available and rubbing shoulders with other bibliophiles.

    Almost every literate person had at least one daily newspaper delivered to their home.

    The family would split up the sections, reading the National and International news, the Local news, the latest Sports scores, the Wall Street stock market tables, and the Society pages. Even if you had never been to a major league game or owned any stock or were not included in the hoity-toity world of debutante balls and country club affairs, you would read about them in the newspaper. And there were always the recipes for cakes and cookies, other homemaking tips, and an advice column that provided readers with sneak peeks into other people’s frustrations and fears.

    Then there were the movies. In an effort to compete with television, Hollywood tried to offer something more. There were three-dimensional movies that would give flat-screen entertainment a new depth, as long as you wore the special Polaroid glasses. There were also Cinerama screens, which used a large curved screen with three synchronized projectors to put the audience in the middle of the action.

    There were also the multiplex cinemas that offered a number of different movies on smaller screens at one central venue.

    Let us not forget the art movie theaters, with soft-core nudity and sex of the Russ Meyer’s category, which soon evolved into hard-core sex films in movie houses such as the Pussycat theater chain, founded in the 60s and defunct by the 90s. Porno movie theaters, like the Pussycat chain, were replaced by rented porno video tapes and now the internet. Today any enterprising 10-year-old can learn first-hand about love, sex, and perversion without having to endure the awkward birds-and-the-bees talk of the past.

    Miscellany

    The changes in what once was and will never be again go on and on. Rotary-dial phones, typewriters, answering machines, beepers, beauty contests, food stamps, 8mm home movies, Kodak and Polaroid cameras, and pictures made on film.

    Some of these institutions – such as beauty contests – are still around, but they’re generally campy, dated, and valued mainly for their nostalgic appeal.

    The problem with nostalgia, is it’s very selective. It remembers the good times, the good music, and the good friends. Nostalgia, by definition, is a fondness for the past. It overlooks the evilness of past times.

    Was the past better than the present day? There are two answers to that question and they are both correct.

    Yes and no.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.