On Earning a Living

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According to the New York Times (Of Interest, April 9,) Discovery TV mogul David Zaslav “earned a compensation package valued at $246.6 million last year.”

Excuse me?

Nobody earns $246 million in a year. People earn money, sometimes a living, by digging ditches, waiting tables, selling things, building things, teaching others, sometimes even by writing stories.

People rake in multiple millions “in compensation” by being smart and skilled and trading up. Usually with a little luck.

Ketanji Brown Jackson earned a seat on the Supreme Court. It pays pretty well, an average of just over a quarter million. Mr. Zaslav, I presume, worked hard for the annual thousands that have led to his current millions.

But in deference to all who labor to earn a living wage, could we find a better verb for raking in mega-millions? Maybe I’ll ask The Times.   

Modern Laundry 101

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Do I really want to start the laundry back home, in the middle of a lobster dinner at the Ritz? Perhaps.

Or maybe it can wait.

My new Bash automatic washer (names are being changed to protect the innocent) arrived recently, along with an instruction book designed for someone with an advanced degree from MIT. But I got through it (I do have an MFA in Short Fiction,) followed all the instructions, ran the Drum Clean cycle and am now happily doing the laundry that has piled up since my former Bash died of natural causes. In hindsight, I feel it was morally wrong – or improper at best – to have let my old Bash be carted off with hardly a notice.

Here’s what my new Bash can do – I’m still reading the instruction book, but I think I’ve got it. If I scan the QR code, and program everything else – i.e., I’m also going to need to go buy a Voice Assistant – I will be able to call home and start the laundry in the middle of the main course. Do I wish to receive Push Notification when the cycle is done? That would be, say, during dessert. I may pass on the Push Notification.

Engin Ukyart on Unsplash

No offense to the high tech Bash designers, but what’s wrong with getting off the sofa the old-fashioned way and doing the laundry myself?

I have a long history with laundry. Before we got the fancy new washer with wringer attachment that was rolled over to the sink to run the water in – I was about 10 years old at the time – my mother had a washboard* forheavenssakes. Google it.

At the end of the Instruction Book are several pages of Problem/ Possible Cause(s)/ Solution for one’s further entertainment. My favorite is (Problem) Water does not appear to be filling in; (Possible Cause) Water taps not turned on; (Solution) Turn on water taps. I mean, really. They think I’m smart enough to scan QR codes and call the Voice Assistant in the middle of my dinner party, and I don’t know to turn on the water tap? Following the P/PC/S pages are another few pages of further information about the little emojis, symbols and dotted numbers that may light up. I think this is for the protection of the Bash people against claims of mental collapse caused by mysterious emojis blinking all over the laundry room.

Speaking of which. The final pages of the Book are all about Limited Product Warranty and “effectuated warranty coverage,” because of course there are warranties for all these technological wonders. With limits. After a time, “Bash is under no obligation, at law or otherwise, to provide you with any concessions, including repairs, prorates or Product replacement . . .”

I may go find a washboard.  

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*there’s even a story inspired by the 1940s Maytag washer in forthcoming Marshallville Stories! Publication date: April 19th. Hope you’ll pick up a copy.

Today’s Miracle Drug

photo medication pills on white plastic container

(Serious side effects may occur . . .)

photo medication pills on white plastic container
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

As a public service, I have begun a trial regimen of the medication reported to be an answer to today’s needs. In case you have not yet taken such a step of your own accord, I am reprinting, below, the instructions and some minor cautionary details that came with my supply:

Enclosed please find your 30-day supply of Perfecto99. Taken as directed, Perfecto99 will improve your overall energy level, brain function  and ability to achieve life goals.

Common side effects may include muscle pain, headaches, nausea and diarrhea. Do not take Perfecto99 if you are or plan to become pregnant..     

Clinical trials have shown Perfecto99 to be as good as, or better than all similar supplements currently awaiting FDA approval.

Call your doctor if you have problems urinating, or if you notice involuntary or uncontrollable muscle movement, as these can be permanent.

Perfecto99, now the global leader in extending average life expectancy, has been shown to improve activity and longevity among Caucasian, AAPI, Black and LatinX populations. Even a few Swedes.

Perfecto99 can cause intestinal problems, serious abdominal pain and sometimes fatal bleeding. Also, occasional burning, crawling, itching, numbness, prickling, “pins and needles”, or tingling feelings have been reported.

Don’t drive, attempt to stand on your own or operate heavy equipment within 24 hours of taking Perfecto99. Just stay in bed and feel sorry for yourself.

Before starting Perfecto99, we recommend a thorough examination by the physician(s) of your choice, including but not limited to bronchoscopy, endoscopy, colonoscopy and cross-check by a qualified podiatrist.

Get help right away if you experience swelling of the face, mouth or tongue, or if you notice a rash appearing on extremities. In rare cases, severe upper respiratory tract and chest infections leading to death have been reported.

Perfecto99 contains alphanomaic acid, which has been shown to offer immediate relief for listlessness, joint pain and stressful family arguments.

Do not take Perfecto99 if you are allergic to its ingredients, or if you have Guillain-Barré syndrome, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Bell’s palsy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or long-haul Covid. We may have left something out here.

Our trained Perfecto99’ers stand ready to take your calls at 999-888-7220; simply follow the prompts and do not despair. If you are dissatisfied in any way, a full refund will be promptly sent to you or your survivors.

Watching War Begin

Jordy Meow on Unsplash

Surreal. There is no other word.

Last night I was having a cup of after-dinner coffee, working on my computer with MSNBC on in the background. A correspondent in flak vest and helmet was standing in the middle of Kyiv saying, “We’re hearing shelling in the background . . .” and soon thereafter, “Sirens are now going, you can hear them . . .” And we could.

The screen switched to a map showing movement of troops, tanks, missile launchers. Hearing Russian President Putin make references to his country’s nuclear power was almost too much.

One of my earliest memories is of a night in the late 1930s, when I was about four (Yes, I am that old.) My sister Mimi and I were asleep in our double bed; Mimi was six. It seemed the middle of the night to us – in reality it was probably about 10 PM – when our father sat on the edge of the bed and gently woke us up. Then he lifted us, one in each arm, and carried us downstairs into the living room. It was clear this was not a joy ride; I remember trying hard to wake up.

My mother was there, sitting in her chair in front of the big Philco radio, and my father deposited us onto the floor. The announcer – probably Edward R Murrow, the source of all radio news in our house (and most others) – was talking but I have no memory of what he was saying. My father turned the sound down, and said, “This man you’ll hear in a minute is going to cause terrible destruction in the world. I want you to know what a madman sounds like.” Again, I don’t recall being afraid, just incredibly curious. My parents never woke us up once Mimi and I went to bed and were out of their hair; our two older sisters turned in later. They were probably also in the living room but I don’t remember.

The announcer’s voice was replaced by static crackling around the room. It was (I later understood) the sound of short-wave radio being beamed from overseas. Then we heard crowd noise and shouting. Very soon a man’s angry voice started shouting. We had absolutely no idea what he was saying – it was in German. The man was Adolph Hitler. I think it was the last time he was heard on short-wave radio in the U.S.; but soon that voice and the responses of the crowds would be everywhere in the newsreels shown in movie theaters before the feature films.

Everybody knows what happened next.

I know this is 2022, and not 1940. I don’t know if Mr. Putin is unhinged (as he seems,) but that’s just part of what we have to worry about. I’m grateful for the stability and good hearts of most world leaders here and abroad, but it’s hard to forget the angry voice of a madman who craved power at any cost, and what that cost turned out to be.

Can we still avert catastrophe? One can hope. I pray for the people of Ukraine. And for some miraculous peace.

Restorative Justice and Me

Clay Banks on Unsplash

If you punched me in the nose and went to jail, can we still be friends? Or again be friends, to put it more accurately? Maybe if you reimburse me for all those bills. And say you’re really really sorry. A lot of forgiveness on all sides will probably also help.

Restorative justice may be an idea whose time has come. Not that it’s anything new – restorative justice – or related practices like distributive or retributive justice – have been around for a very long time, if you go back to practices among indigenous people around the globe. But a couple of recent New Yorker articles caught my attention.

The first was about a young man named Eddy Zheng, whose name rang a bell. Turns out, Eddy founded and now leads a non-profit designed to help Asian American & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who have been harmed by our often harmful immigration and criminal justice systems. The non-profit is the New Breath Foundation. The bell in my head was ringing because a very special friend of mine (known informally as West Coast Daughter) is closely associated with NBF.

Eddy Zheng is a “formerly incarcerated ‘juvenile lifer’” who turned his life around while in prison and continues to do great good in the world. In his own life, though, restorative justice has not yet worked. He has reached out to those he harmed; thus far nothing has changed between the wronged and the wrongdoers.

But in another case I learned of through a later New Yorker story, the happier ending to a terrible tragedy is playing out. Katie Kitchen, a Texas woman of wealth and privilege, set about facilitating the release of the man who had been convicted and sent to prison for the murder of Kitchen’s father in 1991. At a ceremony for parolees after his release, he said, “Twenty-five years ago, I killed a man. I’m here because the daughter of this man forgave me.” It would be a stretch to say the two are friends, or that Kitchen’s siblings and extended family are pleased with it all. Still, the story is an extraordinary one.

Brady Bellini on Unsplash

Pivoting to the following story might trivialize restorative justice. Forgive me. It just seemed somehow related.

My computer (which is probably more essential than the nose on my face) recently began to malfunction because it ran out of storage space. I called The Expert. The Expert and I have worked together happily – and profitably for both of us – over many years, frequently using one of those screen-sharing programs. The Expert quickly discovered a 16 GB file and deleted it.

“Umm,” said I, “shouldn’t we open it first and see what it is?”

“No,” said the Expert as he hit the Seriously, Delete! button; “you don’t use this folder.”

Big mistake. In that file, now gone to the great delete cloud in the sky, were a few things I do indeed use – like my entire email program, little things like that. What followed was a week of angst and anguish, hours of experimentation in the search for a solution and, eventually, starting from scratch to download the lost programs from the Carbonite cloud. If anyone asks, it takes nine hours to download a 16 GB file from the sky. The urge to kill the Expert was overwhelming; I thought I might get off altogether by pleading justifiable homicide.

After several sleepless nights and a day or two of rage, I began to rethink my homicidal impulses. They weren’t doing me any good, and I felt sure the Expert was remorseful, even if probably not losing any sleep himself. I called him up.

“It’s okay,” I said, “I don’t believe you were acting with evil intent.” We are friends again. He helped me order a Portable SSD T7 external storage thing – whatever that is; it seems better than replacing my little favorite, familiar laptop. This may or may not fall in the category of oversimplified restorative justice. But I’m sleeping better.

Also. Be very careful what you delete.

A New Year’s Ode to the Tree

green trees
green trees
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Events and humankind in general being iffy these days, this seems a good time to talk about trees. I am a tree-hugger to the core. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer for probably never writing a blog as lovely as a tree, herewith.

Other flora and fauna offer unique contributions to the planet and to us planet-dwellers, but The Tree offers food and sustenance, healing, shelter, mystery, wisdom and peace. What can I say? Actually, Fred Hageneder says it pretty well in the introduction to his latest book, The Living Wisdom of Trees. After listing things we humanoids aspire to such as “extending compassion, feeling gratitude, and love for fellow inhabitants of the planet,” Hageneder holds that trees show us “life is worth so much. Trees and humankind,” he points out, “have always had a symbiotic relationship.” (I’m going to hope I haven’t misrepresented the good botanist/ scholar/ author; he writes great books.)

There’s the Tree of Knowledge, for example, and do we ever need it today. Separating good from evil has unfortunately gotten terribly tricky.

Not to mention the Tree of Life (some people say the two are one and the same, but two trees are always better than one IMHO.) So many sacred trees run through human history they can boggle the mind – unless the mind simply relaxes into the notion that humans throughout history have tried to make meaning of things and trees help us do that. I mean, there they stand, firmly rooted and gracefully growing to the full extent that Mother Nature allows.

Brian Abeling, Iowa Road Trip.net

The cousin of a close friend is working on a tree-centric ancestry book, and gave permission for me to quote from it. Here’s what Mary Gilchrist of Iowa City, Iowa writes: “Arriving in Iowa in 1880, my grandfather’s grandfather and his brother were measuring their land and stuck a stick that the latter had cut for a walking stick into the ground in order to mark the boundary. As cottonwoods will do, the stick took root and grew to a majestic size. When the road was moved a bit, the tree was smack dab in the middle of the intersection. Prized on the Great Plains, the cottonwood tree was left in that intersection, nestled in the area which also housed members of the Troublesome Creek Gang, aka the Crooked Creek Cowboys, who terrorized the area until shootouts ended their rampages.” Those cousins still gather around that tree for periodic photo ops, and perhaps to give silent thanks.

My own affections are more fickle, as they jump from tree to tree. At the start of my MFA program (University of San Francisco, Class of ’00) we were assigned the task of writing an autobiographical narrative. An interesting project at any age, creating something essentially true and minimally boring at 60-something which I then was – whew. Fifty pages max. But it turned out at least essentially true and minimally boring.

pink cherry blossom tree under blue sky during daytime
Alexandra Dubinina on Unsplash.com

FAMILY TREES, it’s titled. Early on it tells about Willie Oak, the giant Virginia Oak around which my kid-gang gathered when I was six or seven or so. Named for Mrs. Inez Hatcher’s gardener (who could climb higher and swing farther than any of us,) Willie Oak was located on a large, grassy vacant lot next to Mrs. Hatcher’s house and centered an entire social system. It offered limbs to climb, a tire swing secured from a high branch, shelter on hot summer days and the freedom to create around these – pretty much out of sight of parents or passing grown-ups. Then there were the plum trees in our back yard whose fragrance was beyond glorious and whose fruit regularly made us sick because who can sit in a tree full of ripe plums and not overeat? And the leafy maples for sitting and reading in, while also eavesdropping on passersby who had no idea a small person was up there hidden and listening.

Later there was the elegant, matriarchal magnolia (which I also climbed, although 40-some years older by then,) in the front yard of a post-divorce Dutch Colonial. And lastly the majestic Monterey Pine my good final husband Bud had planted in a small basket years before. By the time I took up writing residency in a fourth floor studio it was flourishing outside my window, hosting bees and butterflies and lovely Anna’s Hummingbirds; if bees and butterflies and hummingbirds in tall pines can’t inspire a writer, nothing can.

Need a good New Year’s resolution? Hug a Tree   

Reporting from the Facebook Dungeon

Galaxy Survives Black Hole's Feast – For Now | NASA
NASA view of the Black Hole

I have been disappeared by Facebook.

Well, not totally disappeared yet, although I recognize that could happen any day now. So far, I’ve just been made essentially invisible. It happens. I do understand one should not get one’s feelings hurt by an app, but still. Facebook algorithms, I further understand, are managed by some faceless Facebook Artificial Intelligence machine, and no actual human beings are involved other than the evil cabal sitting in a dark room somewhere setting in motion mysterious controls over the most intimate details of our psyches.

My psyche is in pain.

Ten or fifteen years ago my granddaughter created a Facebook page for me because, she said, it was imperative that I get into the 21st century and besides, this was how I could keep in touch with my grandchildren. They, of course, have now moved on to Instagram and Twitter and who knows what other wondrous technological barriers to personal interaction. But meanwhile I have come to enjoy Mark Zuckerberg’s toy. Long lost, faraway friends have become friendly and familiar, friends and nodding acquaintances from other pieces of my convoluted life have arisen, even some current friends and (older than the grandkids) family members reappear on my merry page. And try as I might to avoid patronizing the maddening ads I’m satisfied that I spend enough on its sponsors to keep Mr. Zuckerberg in the style to which he is accustomed and thus have repaid my free-space debt a few zillion times over.

So now I resent being disappeared by his algorithm crew; it seems an undeserved case of disinFacebookfranchisement.  

Here’s what does show up on my feed – after “Fran, we care about you . . . Your memories on Facebook . . .” In order of appearance:

Something posted by a nice young woman whom I did like (in the original sense of the word) when she waited tables in my building six or eight years ago.

Two ads.

Something re-posted by a distant friend of my daughter.

Something else re-posted from a 4-year-old post by someone whose name is vaguely familiar so I must have Facebook friended him sometime in the distant past.

Another ad.

Something posted two days ago by a woman who lives in Borneo and whom I must have Facebook friended at some point because we do have a few things in common even if we’ve never met.

Two more ads. At which point it’s time to give up and quit scrolling.

Here’s what does not appear in my feed: Anything posted by my children or other family members, anything posted by good friends, Facebook ‘Close Friends’, or by others with whom I’ve been happily, frequently interacting over the past 10 or 15 years.

I assume Facebook is sharing my own posts with one or two people who are Facebook Friends but don’t really remember who I am – since part of my disappearance is the total absence of comments or emojis of any sort on the three photos I have bravely posted over the past week. This, of course, is the final blow to one’s fragile ego: Nobody likes my posts!

It is very dark down here in the dungeon of the disappeared.

The Dark Side of Airline Travel

The 7 coolest airplane interiors and how the designs spice up your flight
Matadornet.com image

What is it with dark airplanes? Those of us addicted to sunlight, open air and cloud-watching may have to establish our own airline. Or unionize in favor of at least a passenger area dedicated to open window shades. We might, I fear, find it slow going.

I am a confirmed window-seat person. I have nothing against aisle-seat people; endowed with a better-than-average (I’ve been told) bladder, I generally don’t bother them. Middle-seat people, unless they are part of a devoted couple, simply had the misfortune to book their tickets late; for purposes of this essay they count for very little. What power do they have, anyway, poor squished-in things.

On settling into my window-seat corner, the first thing I want to do is raise the shade. More and more often it seems there’s a rule against this until we are at least airborne. Which is OK with me; I’m a cloud-watcher, not necessarily a greasy-runway-watcher. So once we level off above the clouds I am eager to slide my shade up.

That’s when I get the frantic motion from the aisle-seat occupant who wants it shut. If window shades were open elsewhere in our sardine can I might be emboldened to resist. But no, a glance around reveals nothing but gloom. Every shade drawn tight. We might as well be in a submarine.

“Folks,” I want to shout, “it’s 10 AM!” But I do not. There’s enough hostility loose in the land as is.

So we travel across the country in darkness. Outside are rivers and plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, too many cloud formations to name. Sunsets. Weather conditions creating phenomena we may never again see. What can I say?

Naps, you argue. Well OK, I’m a #1 proponent of naps. But what’s wrong with eyeshades? We’re all masked up; we might as well be fully hidden from sight. I’ve tried napping on airplanes myself. You can take this to the bank: approximately 45 seconds into a deep sleep the captain will come on with some 80-decibel announcement about how grateful the crew is for our loyalty, and how he (it’s always a he; she-captains at least generally speak at an acceptable decibel level) wants us to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We are supposed to enjoy being rudely awakened just to be reminded we are being held captive in a dark-grey tin box for five or six hours? Lacking any other announcement excuse we will encounter rough air that mandates an interruption about tightening our seat belts. My seat belt was already tight.

 Small children whine loudly. Who can blame them? There’s no glimmer of daylight into which mommy can point to say “Look at the pretty puffy clouds.” Or even rain. We drought-weary Californians would so relish the sight of rain on the wings – but no, everybody wants to plunge westward in solemn gloom, back to the wildfires without even a small memory of possible salvation.

It’s enough to drive one to train travel. Or cars. At least you can’t drive a car with all the windows covered over. Uh, oh. I may have given the self-driving car crazies a new idea.

Finally there is the closing announcement. “We’re beginning our descent into San Francisco. Thank you for flying Shut-in Air.”