Thursday, October 28, 2010


It's full campaign season wind-up, making the phone extra busy, extra intrusive. The other night I answered it, only to hear a recorded message start up, "Are you bothered by robo-calls? Do you have problems with..."


Now that you mention it, it appears I do. But there's an easy fix. Don't even need an app for that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plan D? Plan E?

When my dad was first ordered oxygen for home use, the plan was to put the concentrator in the middle of his apartment and trail the tubing around, attached to him wherever he wandered. That lasted a couple days. His complaint was the inconvenience of the tubing, managing it while walking so it didn't become a tripping hazard. Luckily, he never actually tripped over it, but that danger was/is ever present in our minds.

Plan B was to keep the concentrator near his lift chair, the place he spends most of his time. A small amount of the 50 feet of tubing could be played out, giving him moderate mobility while staying connected, and the rest remaining coiled up in a box next to the machine. It didn't seem to want to stay coiled up, so eventually a section of it was loosely "knotted" around a convenient protrusion on the machine, with about 10 feet left to keep track of. He didn't need it while sleeping, and this served well enough, even after he moved in with the family up here.

Plan C was actually a lessening of use. A year on nebulizer meds yielded increasing lung capacity, until the county nurse (who regularly visits as part of our using county home health aids for his care) declared she heard breath sounds all through his lungs, a first for her. They agreed that he would use the oxygen only when he needed it, during those times of high activity.

The afternoon I returned home to hear him declare he didn't need it anymore (at all, to hear him say it) ended with a hasty set of phone calls to find out just what the heck the nurse thought she was doing! Hearing the full, rational explanation was quite helpful, and I got to (try to) pass the corrected information back on to him. Somehow the wrong information stuck in his brain quite clearly for days and the corrected news lit like a shy little finch, flitting away at the slightest movement.

Nothing stays the same like change. The past few weeks have seen him increasingly shorter of breath with just the slightest activity. It all started, of course, just days after his doctor's check-up. Now he needs his oxygen for activities like dressing and undressing, as well as my increasing help for him to do so. Morning and evening routines have relocated from the bedroom to the living room, and we've been looking for a way to have oxygen for him at both ends of the house.

We could go back to plan A, but reject it for the same reason as before: tripping hazard. However, the idea of a central location for the concentrator and using two hoses, one going either direction, seems feasible. Paul checked the connection of the tubing to the machine, and it's a simple pull-off, push-on action of plastic over metal. But it could be made easier.

Ever use two hoses at the same faucet? There's a little thing called a "Y" valve that screws onto the faucet, with each hose screwing onto it, and a lever closing of one or the other hose, or allowing water to flow through both. Oxygen tubing needs one of those. Oh, I admit it's a very special-use item. After all, if oxygen is your only health need, it's fairly simple to trail tubing around with you. No walker to catch in it, good vision to see where it is, strong arms to move it out of the way. Who needs fancy?

Well, my dad does. So Plan D was to call the company providing the concentrator and ask if they had such a thing as a "Y" valve for their tubing. Well, sort of, but it was a connection so one concentrator could feed two tubes simultaneously. He doesn't need 2 tubes. Not at one time. Just one. First one in bed, then one in the living room. As long as he's been wearing it and is "stocked up", he's mobile enough to get to the bathroom or the dining table without it.

On to Plan E then. I ordered extra tubing ("You mean you've never ordered it? It should be replaced at least every 90 days!") (Who knew?) Did I want green or white? Yes. Surprise me. When it arrives late this week or early next, the concentrator will go in the middle of the house, with tubing heading off in both directions, taped to baseboards and down on carpeting under doors, so there's an end with the nose piece by his lift chair and one by his bed. When he goes to bed, the living room piece of tubing will be pulled off and the bedroom piece pushed on. And vice versa. Twice a day. Every day. And his pajamas can go back to staying in the bedroom. And I can sit on the bed next to him and rest my knees periodically while he's getting dressed/undressed.

The gal on the phone offered to let us rent a second concentrator. I'm pretty sure she understood my declining the offer when she informed me that, no, Medicare would not actually pay for a second one. So no Plan F. Or at least not that one. I have no doubt that some day there may have to be some kind of Plan G.

I can wait.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Attempt to Deliver

That's the imperative in my business. One must always make the attempt.

I do know of one refusal by a driver. It was '91, the first evening of the Halloween Blizzard. We still communicated then by radio, so we heard other drivers as they talked with dispatch, even with the rest of us when it was otherwise dead. There was already about 8" of snow on the ground in what would become over 30", and the route into Shakopee was a pair of roads that ran just over normal river height, and were frequently closed for spring flooding. The new 169 bridge was still just a twinkle in some engineer's eye. Both roads had just been closed by MnDOT, and reports were already coming in of snowplows getting stuck on entrance ramps and blocking all access. This driver was arguing that he was heading home with the freight rather than making any further attempt to deliver it that night. Dispatch had other ideas. However, since the roads were impassable for another 3 days, and mostly the whole state shut down until the following Monday, he never suffered any consequences that I'm aware of. Like me, he still drives for the company.

You remember the TV footage of a tornado taken by a KARE 11 helicopter news crew aloft at the time? This was also back in the good ol' days of radio dispatch. It had been a sunny afternoon, and during a pause in my schedule I watched this most amazingly fast thunderhead build just a bit northeast of my position. This could not possibly bode well. I have never seen one like it since - just as well, since that became the mother of the twister shortly thereafter. And I was dispatched a run heading off in that direction; luckily, chasing it and not ahead of it.

Suddenly the airwaves were full of chatter: I see a twister. What do I do? It's heading right towards me! Several drivers chorused in: get out of the car, stay in the car, find a ditch, drive like hell away from there, go go go!

Driving into the area less than an hour later, I was awestruck at the tree damage, including to trees on the property of the business I was delivering to. I commented on the damage as I walked in. The receptionist answered that the whole company had been sent to the shelter in the center of the building to ride out the storm, and when the all-clear was given, she returned to her desk only to find one of us knocking at their door with a package! They were impressed enough with our level of service that they used us until their company dissolved in scandal.

My own delivery stories are nowhere so dramatic. Occasionally they are worth comment. There's a whole assortment of things sent to the wrong address, often years after the recipient moved. And of course there are the ones sent to the wrong door, dock vs. front, even when you know Company X only accepts deliveries at a different door. Mostly these are only worth the comment that it takes us extra time to straighten such things out, slowing down other work that's just as urgent as the messed-up run. It's hardly worth saying that these things tend to make us look like incompetent idiots. I mean, one wants to assume that the company paying for the delivery actually knows what it's talking about, but... Well, keep dreaming.

One "wrong door" delivery sticks with me years later. It was a package going to a fancy schmancy mansion, sent to the front door. The "lady" of the house frostily greeted me at the front door by directing me around back to the "servants' entrance". One guess who then met me at the back door to sign for it!

I console myself by believing that such bad behavior is prompted by somebody living a very miserable life. Whatever the lifestyle.

The other night I had another memorable delivery. A metro electrical supply company sent me with a box of pipe-sounding parts to a manufacturing plant in rural Wisconsin. I'd been there before, and could find it in the dark. Late as it was sent, I'd need to.

The front office was dark, closed, locked. Not too surprising in companies running second shifts. The bell to gain attention, however, was inside the glassed-in vestibule, and its door was locked, on my side of the bell.

Of course.

I started driving around the building. Dark, locked. Next door, dark, locked. No shipping-receiving signs, neither on dock or overhead doors. No bells. As I was finishing my first circuit, it dawned on me that I'd seen only about three cars on the premises. If that was a second shift, it was mighty tiny. Well, go around again: maybe I missed something the first time. It's happened before.

This time a door was opened next to the cars. Better yet, someone was taking a smoking break. I flashed my car lights at him, and he came down the stairs to meet me. Turns out, he was from the boiler company, making repairs. Were they waiting for any parts from _____? He'd go check.

When he returned, another guy was with him. They weren't waiting for any parts, but he offered to go through the plant to contact the others working there (we could hear them) in order to find out whether/where they wanted the parts.

This was a longer wait. They'd gone as far as they could through the plant, only stopping when they were met with a floor of fresh concrete. (I agreed: good decision.) They couldn't find anybody or get their attention. But they would be happy to sign for the box and leave it on the floor by the boiler.

I could go home! About darn time!

I agreed, they did, and I did.

But sometimes it just doesn't end when it ends. I was nagged by the thought that the sender thought this box important enough to send me out after hours. Had I missed somebody? I did type "boiler room" after the signature, so somebody looking up the run in the data base could know where it was.

Hmmm, still not good enough. I called dispatch, but at that hour the phones were answered at a remote location and unable to be of help. I just informed them that if somebody called about the delivery, it was in the boiler room.


When I got home, and was getting Daddy ready for bed, I looked up the drop company on line, found their phone number, called it, got the receptionist's voicemail, and told the machine what the delivery was, what I'd found (or rather, not found) when I got there, and where the package wound up. Somebody would be looking for it.

And still....

The next morning, I called in to regular dispatch, asked had anybody been hunting the package? and told them where it was.

Now it was right. Or as right as I could make it. Finally time to let it go.


Well, after blogging about it, of course.

Friday, October 22, 2010

And They Call That Food?

Something remarkable happened this morning as I was fixing Daddy's breakfast. He listens to WCCO, so I do as well. Captive audience. Being a conservative station, the political ads are as well. Mostly I try to either ignore them, or I talk back to them. This mostly confuses my dad, who thinks I'm saying something important, to him. (Neither of the above.)

But today I found myself laughing through the last half of the ad. I don't think they meant it to be funny. I'm sure it was inadvertently hilarious. But they could play it exactly the same on SNL and the audience couldn't separate it from one of their own satiric ads.

Two actresses were discussing the keep-government-out-of-our-lives theme, as if they were moms. You heard the usual we-can-raise-our-families-better-than-the-government stuff, before they got to the real nitty gritty of the complaint. It seems they took umbrage over the proposal to put a tax on some very important foods to these moms, just to change their behavior in what they feed their kids. Disgraceful! Manipulative! Call your politicians and tell them to stop this horrible intrusion!

What are these vital, nutritious foods?

Sodas, energy drinks, and even - gasp! - flavored waters!

Oh my!

Weasel Words

I'm trying to decide whom to vote for for County Commissioner. I have one major issue: the local library. I was one of those involved back when when several communities cooperated in a joint powers agreement to get new and/or updated libraries for our county. There was a lot of joy in the fight, but there was a lot of uphill in the fight as well. The problem was maintaining a majority of commissioners, then and subsequently, who were willing to fully support the libraries financially, not just in the bonding but in the operations.

Green is our current commissioner, after the last one, Rick Olseen, left for a successful campaign for the state senate. Having taken a hiatus from local politics for most of the last 4 years, I had no clue whether his position was/is full support for the libraries. I recently asked him, and what I got instead was a history lesson.

Yes, I know the history. I was there. Mine is one of the signatures on those joint powers agreements. I know all about ECRL - East Central Regional Library - that is the coordinating and administrative head for our multi-county system. I know they decide what the budget needs to be and then submit it to each county for budgeting and payment. I also know that if we, or any county, cuts corners on the budget, it directly affects just that county's library in terms of staffing hours and other services. I was there back when, during a time when some commissioners pulled that stunt. So what I wanted to know was, would he vote to fully fund the library system?

He just couldn't manage a "yes" or a "no". All I heard was him starting in on the explanation of how the system works, again. I heard it the first time, as if I needed any of it. And all I heard from him were weasel words.

I think it's time to check out his opposition.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Farewell Juan Williams

NPR fired him today, after making comments about being afraid when he saw people who were foremost Muslim in their identity. (What if somebody said the same thing with the word "black" replacing "Muslim"? Or Jewish?)


I disliked him from the moment I first heard him on the air. To be fair, he was trying to fill the shoes vacated by Ray Suarez on Talk of the Nation. I'd spent years glued to that radio show, listening to Ray. Nobody could fill those shoes.

Juan soon proved me right. It wasn't long before I was finding out Juan's opinions on nearly every topic he discussed. Ray didn't do that. He emceed the show as an information sponge, turning me into one as well. Juan was political, and not my kind of political.

Beyond that, he wasn't even very good. He repeatedly interrupted his guests, sidetracking them from finishing their ideas. He undercut his callers. A typical radio talk show host will introduce a caller something like, "Ben, from Minneapolis, you have a question?" Or maybe s/he'll just say, "Ben, from Minneapolis, you're on the air with ...." Too many times I heard Juan say something like, "Ben from Minneapolis wants to ask you ... (fill in the text of Ben's question)." This leaves poor Ben sounding like an idiot repeating the question we all just heard from Juan. I always wondered why nobody ever confronted him with a very sarcastic, "Gee, thanks Juan, you just stole everything I was going to say so why do you even need me?" The more I think about it, the more it seems that whatever the topic seemed to be about, it was really about Juan having the biggest ego in the room.

Eventually he moved on to being a part-time commentator, and somebody else - a series of somebodies - took over the show. (It's much more enjoyable now, most days.) I still found him annoying, always taking his comments with a grain of salt, aware of his political bent in every word.

Then he took on a project covering the Mississippi River, stopping at various places along it and reporting on what/who was there. You'd think that could be neutral and informative, right? He managed to tick me off even more, when he casually tossed out the comment that the Mississippi through Minneapolis was frozen over in October.

Say what? Is he insane? This October the city is still waiting for its first killing frost, and the river rarely freezes all the way across even in the worst winters.

So I stewed. And stewed. And eventually called the MPR comment line, leaving a recording complaining about the egregious misinformation. Within a few more minutes, I was still stewing, so I called the line back and left another message. I invited Mr. Williams, some future October, to join me in a boat I'd take out to the middle of the river, where I'd invite him to leave the boat and walk to shore. Heck, I'd even provide snowshoes if he wanted them.

That felt better for a while, but by now I was getting the hang of both stewing and leaving messages. So I called one last time. I thought I'd warn him about the penguins and polar bears inhabiting the river in October. It seemed only fair. I mean, you'd expect them in such frigid climes, sharing the ice pack with you, right?

To my complete surprise, the station called me back. The woman who called asked me if I were the same Heather Rosa who was Mayor of Shafer. I was. (How did they know?) She asked permission to air some edited version of my comments. Sure, no prob. She also said he was not their favorite on-air personality, and relished the chance to air a critique of what he said. Not only that, they were going to forward a copy on to him.


So I listened hard the next day when they aired comments. They just had to give my full name and the fact I was a mayor. (Blush) But they did a fair job of editing the first two messages together so they made sense. But, of course, being MPR, I guess they thought adding the part about the penguins and polar bears (perfectly valid satire if you actually think that river's frozen in October) was just a bit over the top.

Oh well, considering how thoroughly I was identified, it's probably just as well.

Farewell, Juan. FOX deserves you. And they're willing to pay $2 million for the pleasure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Idiots Parade

Sometimes I find idiots annoying and/or amusing. Other times they are more than annoying. I've been collecting samples of both for the blog this week.

On the level of annoying, let's start with the check printers. My dad ran out of checks a couple weeks ago, and I called the bank to reorder. I'd been postponing, since at 96, one doesn't suppose one needs to get another 2 year supply until it's actually necessary. It finally was, and we went through all the details for the order in a quick phone call. They were to arrive in 7-10 days.

There was a holiday in there, and she didn't actually specify whether those were calendar or business days, so I exercised patience until 2 weeks had gone by. Then it was time to check what had actually happened to them. We didn't need to deal with somebody else using them, after all. After counting that it had been the actual two weeks that the check company requires one to wait before they will track missing orders, my bank contact got ahold of the check company and found out that they had been delivered.

To the old address.

Now he moved out of there 15 months ago. All the bank correspondence had the new address. The checks had the new address. I verified at the time of of the order that they were to be sent to the new address.

But still.

The rush re-order arrived yesterday. I haven't heard yet if the old ones were returned.

* * * * *

Next on the annoying list is my brush with turning into the grammar police. It's not my favorite idea of how to spend time, but I'm quite good at it. It might be a family thing, because my daughter is too, even better than I am. I've learned some things from her. But this tale starts with what is one of my favorite things to do: read all of a favorite author that's available.

This time it was Dean Hovey. He has three books out, all mysteries set in Pine County, Minnesota. They're quite good, except for one thing. Whoever proofread them, or copy-edited them, or whatever, didn't. They pass the spell-check test, but that doesn't catch "that" when it should have been "than." They were full of those kind of errors. But even more glaring was the misuse of pronouns. Somebody can't tell the difference between nominative and objective case, particular when two persons are referred to. Now if the big names confuse you, it's just the difference between when to use "he" and "him", "I" and "me." One, the nominative, is the person doing the action: I and he. The objective is the person that the action is being done to: me and him. Those kind of errors were all through the books, and few things interrupt the suspense faster than stopping to rail at the stupidity of someone using the wrong words.

I thought to contact the publisher, but their name is not mentioned anywhere in the book. (How does that happen?) So, I went back to the library website where I reserved them, and found it there: J Press. The internet gave me an email-form to contact them, so I let them have my opinion on the topic. It was acknowledged with a form that thanked me and let me know that I'd get a return message within 48 hours.

Uh huh. Sure. That was Sunday. This is Wednesday.

Mr. Hovey, if you Google yourself and read this, you deserve a better publisher. One that knows grammar.

* * * * *

If one is looking for a high silliness quotient in idiocy, one can hardly do better than Christine O'Donnell, the Republican senate candidate for Delaware. You've surely heard of her by now. She's the one who "dabbled" in witchcraft by having a "date" on a bloody Satanic altar (which has nothing whatsoever to do with Wicca), and chose Christianity because she liked meatballs too much to become vegetarian for Hare Krishna, her previous top choice. Her campaign ad insists that she's not a witch, whatever we've heard. "I'm you."


She claims to be a constitutional expert and promises to govern according strictly to the constitution. Unfortunately, she's just a bit weak on what it says. In a debate yesterday, she challenged her Democratic opponent to tell her just where in the constitution it talked about the separation of church and state. When the audience of lawyers started to howl in laughter, she smiled and joined in, her expression clearly showing she thought they agreed with her that she'd just won the game of Gotcha.

Gotta wonder if she's figured it out yet.

* * * * *

For personal irritation, a fellow I met at work today wins the prize. I might have been amused, but his idiocy kept me standing an extra 10 minutes while I was trying to make a pick-up. I lose my sense of humor quickly under such circumstances.

It was bad enough that I'd had to cross an unnecessarily large and showy lobby just to reach the elevators that brought me up to the 6th floor. My mood was further compromised by the fact that it was a secured floor, and I had to walk to the other end of the elevator lobby and stand around while sorting through all the information next to the telephone just to find the number for the mailroom, and by the fact that nobody answered the first set of rings. After trying again, I finally got through and explained what I was there to pick up.

It took two more minutes for the mailroom guy to come out to the lobby. Empty handed. He couldn't find the package. Did I have a contact name? Did I know what it was? I showed him the sum total of the information I was given on the screen of my phone, even handing the phone to him so he could see for himself.

Only he couldn't see for himself. The hand with the phone just got further and further from his face, until he finally turned to me and admitted he couldn't read it. I read it for him, joking that he needed longer arms. Yeah, he'd been putting off getting glasses. He disappeared another five minutes.

It gave me plenty of time to condemn him for a vain idiot - silently of course - who didn't want to spoil his pretty face with glasses that might let him actually function in his job! And let me get on with mine, instead of standing around and standing around.

The box he finally handed me was plainly marked as I'd originally told him it would be, in letters plenty big enough that even I didn't need glasses to read them.

Apparently I'm a hidden sexist: I thought only women were that stupidly vain!

* * * * *

The final piece of idiocy comes under the heading of public policy. This time it comes with serious consequences. It would be worse than annoying if it spread to here. Much worse.

Three nearby metropolitan counties, Ramsey, Washington, and Dakota, are discontinuing Meals on Wheels. Instead, frozen meals will be delivered once a week by a Presbyterian group. Now, I'm sure they are well-meaning folks, and this change in service won't seriously disturb independent seniors. But Meals on Wheels doesn't simply provide bulk food.

It provides a hot meal once a day. Already cooked, already assembled, so vulnerable adults do not have to struggle with working a stove, sorting out a balanced meal from a large quantity of items, remembering that it's lunchtime. In time, I might add, to start thawing the desired items. There comes a time in life, should we be so lucky to live that long, when these simple things are the kinds of things that make the difference between independence and dependence. If preparing your own food were that simple, many seniors wouldn't be using Meals on Wheels now. It's not done from laziness; it's from mobility, vision, breathing and cognitive issues that accompany aging.

Food quality must suffer from such a move. My dad's meals now include a variety of fresh salads, jellos, puddings, fresh bread, and other things that either could not be provided at all, or would suffer greatly from freezing/thawing or long term refrigeration.

As important as all that is, Meals on Wheels provides one more vital service, and "vital" is not an exaggeration. Somebody stops in the home to check on the senior once a day during the week. We recognized its importance the day my dad fell in the bathroom and struggled for over an hour to get up before his meal arrived. He would have been there for seven more, thoroughly demoralized and perhaps more badly injured, had that visit not happened!

This is supposed to be a money-saving idea. Unfortunately, it's going to drive a segment of seniors out of their homes and into nursing homes or other kinds of assisted living facilities, a much more expensive option. And those who can't afford or manage such an option will slowly - or possible not so slowly - fail to thrive.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One + One + One Day at a Time

Twelve-stepping is work. No matter why, it's hard work. Sometimes you slip. That's why those in the program take it one day at a time. Even after you've been in the program for years, you can still show up at a meeting, tell them you've been sober (or whatever) for three days, and you are welcomed and supported. One day at a time. And another day at a time.

Eventually those can add up, and you reach a milestone. It can be 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. Or six months, 12 months, or 18 months. Or multiple years. Each milestone is recognized and celebrated. I was honored by an invitation to such a ceremony in support of a friend.

It wasn't my 1st twelve-step meeting or first support group. I dated recovering alcoholics and got invited to share this part of their lives by attending open meetings. I hit my share of Al-Anon meetings. I spent years in a non-12-step group for those dealing with broken relationships issues. I even was invited to a meeting of those struggling with (criminal) sexual issues, although I quickly decided that when the two leaders in the group agreed that their frigid wives were the cause of their seeking out teenaged girls, that theirs was not the path to recovery. I'm not necessarily blaming the support group for that. And I decided I was right when my connection to that group wound up back in prison.

This was my first actual NA meeting, and my invitation extended only to the first part of the meeting, where the purpose of the meetings was laid forth, and the awards were given out. In many ways it was the same as any other support group.

Walking in, one quickly notices that hugs are nearly a universal welcome. Some hug special friends, some offer hugs to everyone. And a few hang back, avoid contact, and take their chairs quietly. There are always some of those. For me, coming out of a nasty marriage years ago, hugs were a welcome affirmation of my worth, even to complete strangers, and I welcomed them then and welcomed them now.

My expectations were met in another regard as well. Everyone who spoke started with, "I'm _____ and I'm an addict (or addict/alcoholic)" and the group responded, "Hi _____." Every time. I was told ahead of time to introduce myself as "I'm Heather and tonight I'm here in support of _____." I got greeted as enthusiastically as everyone else. One person seemed to want to dodge their own introduction going around the circle, mumbling something and passing on to the next. However, when the leader for the night greeted latecomers, the dodger was greeted as well, by name, as if to say,"We know you, we welcome you, you can't hide here, you're one of us." At that point the formula was gone through, and the group moved on.

Now was the part I was here for. They start with the small milestones. Just for being there my first time, I received a key ring and a billfold-sized folded explanation of the program and list of the twelve steps. Next they asked the group if anyone here had achieved 30 days. If someone had, their sponsor stood up to make the presentation, meeting the sponsee in the middle of the circle. The speech was usually an acknowledgment of the hard work and struggle to get to this point, as well as encouragement to continue. It ended with a hug. Most times another person would stand up and greet the person, giving their own little speech. Knowing nothing about these people and their stories, the number of people helping give the award seemed to depend on how many people the awardee had gotten close to.

When it was my friend's turn, I lost count of the number of presenters sometime after six. The speeches centered on two main themes. First was "I've seen how hard you've worked the program and grown and changed," and second was "you've made such an impact on my life." By halfway through I was teary-eyed, and very, very proud of my friend's growth, and getting sore hands from clapping after each presentation. No matter.

Before being allowed to sit down again, each awardee was asked by the group, "How'd you do it?" Each got a chance to say a few sentences about what worked for them, how important meetings, sponsors, friends, etc. were to their continued recovery.

After all the awards, there were readings by different people on what the group was about, and the twelve steps and twelve traditions. These were identical to every AA and AlAnon meeting I've attended, with one exception. This was a group sport. Although only one person read at a time, the group chorused in with in-phrases and slogans. I'd been hearing this already, but here it really became an important part of the meeting. Partly it was a way to affirm, "I'm listening. I've been through this. I know how this goes. Saying these things helps." But for me, the first-timer, it was very much a declaration of "We're the in-group. We know stuff you don't. We belong here. It'll be a very long time before you get all this." I guess it depends on the first-timer whether this comes across as an invitation to stick around long enough to "get" all this, or as a wall one has to climb over along with all the other stuff before one can be truly part of the group.

Maybe I'll have to ask my friend.

Before breaking for smoking, before splitting into the closed small groups, they held the business part of the meeting, with treasurer's reports, announcements. There's a group meeting there/here at such a day/time. There's a party here, there, and there, for sober fun. The basket was passed for donations, and chairs were returned to the room's original configuration.

It was my time to leave, after a last hug for my friend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chocaholic Alert

There's a new, serious temptation on the market. I'm talking taste and cost, both perfect. Yep, I'm thinkin' Arbys.

They offer a chocolate turnover now for a buck, plus tax. At first I didn't bother to order it. I've had so-called chocolate turnovers. Ick. And it's hard to say that about chocolate for me. I love the stuff and am seldom fussy. But one day I got curious, and decided to throw away a buck just to check it out.


Now the chocolate frosting drizzled over the top is nothing super special, and that's going to be your first bite, regardless of which corner you start at. But the pastry is always fresh and flaky. So flaky that it might be handy to have one of those hard plastic baby bibs with the catch-tray built into the bottom, especially when the flake that lands on your pastel shirt is one coated with chocolate frosting. Also especially since, like the proverbial slice of peanut butter toast, it lands gooey side down.

The real treat is the filling, a deep, creamy, generous slathering of semi-sweet chocolate, almost as rich as a truffle at a fraction of the price. Bite carefully, because if you apply too much pressure in one spot, the filling will ooze out elsewhere and rob you of another delicious bite. Not to mention coating fingers, face, and if you're really careless, that pastel shirt you were trying to ruin earlier.

But in spite of the hazards, this is one treat well worth trying. And just in case you didn't get the full effect the first time, trying again. And again. In fact, institute your own personal study as to whether Tuesday is a better day to buy one than Friday, say, or if Monday is better than Wednesday, or whether the flavor diminishes at all after eating two in a row. Just don't forget to wipe the smears off the paper with your carefully tabulated results before you turn it in.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Consequences of a Political Ideology

Ever forget to pay a bill? Has your cash flow ever forced you to choose which bill to pay late this month? Most of us experience this at some time. We expect consequences, and figure this in when it's a cash-flow issue. There might be interest added, making the bill higher when it is paid. There might be a stoppage of credit, an interruption in service. But in your wildest dreams have you ever thought that the penalty might be having your house burn to the ground and your pets killed?

If you think it can't happen here, in this country, it just did. A Tennessee family forgot to pay the $75 fire department fee, and the fire department stood by and watched their home burn, with three dogs and a cat inside. By now you've probably heard the story. It's "gone viral", shocking the great majority of us.

But the policy behind it does have its defenders. These are the people to whom the word "taxes" is anathema, who support the idea that a service as basic as fire protection shouldn't be taxed for but should be billed individually. It's the very epitome of right-wing, Tea Party, Libertarian political philosophy. Its end result is what happened in Tennessee. Those who can pay get the services. (The fire was put out next door after it spread to that home. They had paid.) Those who can't or who forget to pay, or even try to pay late but are refused the privilege, suffer terrible consequences, justified as if this were normal. Or even moral.

What would have happened if there had been a child inside?

I chose to believe that our local fire departments would never participate in this kind of horror. They are dedicated people who want to do something good for their world and their neighbors. Moreover, they should never have to be placed in the position where watching a house burn, except as a training exercise, while they stand by is even an option. After all, here we tax everybody to help pay for the services of police/sheriff, fire, roads, and all the other things that we, as a society, have decided should be due to everybody. Not just the rich.

Think about this when you chose to vote for a philosophy that holds taxes to be evil, that public services should be cut until they are cut out. This incident is not some weird fluke, orchestrated by some evil people way on the other side of the country. This is the logical extension of a distorted philosophy, and you have the opportunity of ushering it in where you are.

* * * * *

Being an imaginative person, one who possibly reads too much mystery fiction, for me the story doesn't stop here. I fill it in with "what-ifs."

What if there was a child inside? What if the homeowner had a gun in his vehicle? Can you see the possibilities for violence there? Hold a gun to the head of the chief, telling him to order the rest to rescue the child and fight the fire. Perhaps, like so many people, the animals are just like family members: same scenario. Maybe there's no coercion, just the homeowner opening up on the whole squad. I could understand that impulse.

Personally, I like to add an ending to the story that involves a high-powered lawyer and a huge lawsuit. Not just against the fire department but against the city manager who forbid them to fight the fire when called. (I heard he was reached at his country club. Factual or not, it's the perfect image.)

What kind of a society are we heading for?

No Hypocrisy Here

Sometimes it's all in the engineering: what you get is what you asked for in the design.

Consider a building in St. Paul. It has its own private street off the public street, taking you toward the river which the building faces, then across the front and across its parking lot, then back to the main street. Think of a "C" with squared corners. There's plenty of visitor parking spaces in the front row of the parking lot, each with its own private parking meter.

From there one walks to the corner of the parking lot, and up a path winding prettily through trees, then along the front of the building to the center door. If you are lucky enough to get a close parking spot, your one-way jaunt is about a city block, and you're paying for the privilege. Plenty of incentive to park there, right?

If one considers just the front of the building, it has a large, 3-car-wide semicircular driveway that gets you much closer to the front door, although they still have quite a sizable plaza out front to cross to reach the door. Most people love to park there for the short time it takes them to run inside and pay their utility bill or order a change in service. And since this building houses a very popular utility, though I'm not naming names, it gets a lot of walk-in business.

They try to discourage parking in front. There used to be "No Parking" signs across both sides of the driveway. Recently they changed them to "Fire Zone. No Parking, No Holding. No Sitting." The message is very clear. The response to it isn't. Or rather, it is clearly ignored. This company's customers plainly go for the user-friendly option, so much so that I occasionally have problems finding myself a space in the semicircle when I go in to pick up a package from them. This involves a further walk, once inside, past the bill-paying section, past the guard desk, past the elevators, to the front office tucked way in back. And out again.

Yesterday I got curious. Since the guard had greeted me in a friendly fashion as I walked in, and not the "I see you doing something I don't like" fashion that many use, I stopped on my way out. (It was only partly to lean on his counter and rest the knees a tad.) I wondered aloud if they ever ticketed the vehicles sitting out in the fire zone? He answered, "No."

I guess my surprise showed in my doing that raised-eyebrow thing, because he went on to explain. "I don't bother anybody parked out there because the police and the fire departments park out there and run in to pay their bills just like everybody else. The firemen even come and park in their fire trucks!" (One would hope it's not on their way to a fire.) "If they can do it, you can do it."

Ah, well, no hypocrisy here, then.

Monday, October 4, 2010

In the Parade

I don't think I've been in a parade since high school, and we're talking marching band here, as in parades as a high-impact sport. Fun then, not so much now.

This time was easier on the knees. I got to ride in a SUV (the convertible had attendance issues) and smile, wave, and throw Tootsie Rolls. It was unexpectedly fun.

I wasn't thinking of it originally as much more than a duty, part of the campaign. Three of us got together and put our signs on one vehicle. I rode, one walked and handed out leaflets, and the third was too sick to show up. Bummer. Other candidates rode golf carts and ATVs, had floats with huge signs, lots of supporters, and the occasional bunch of balloons. The races included city, county and state, and the bigger the constituency, the bigger the parade presence.

Since it was Shafer Days, there were the usual supply of fire engines, squad cars, and tractors in the mix. The horses were near the end, and I neither know nor care who had the scooper. But the streets were cleared of candy before they rode. I'm sure of it.

Well, pretty sure.


I did see people I knew, some neighbors, some others city folks - officials, staff - and one who's a customer of the auctions, sitting along the route with her own booth of goodies to sell. I tossed her Tootsie Rolls too. There were two very large bags of them to toss from inside the SUV, and amazingly it worked out so that there was only about two inches of candy remaining in the bottom when the parade ended.

I discovered there's an art to tossing candy. We learned a lot (I'm counting the driver too) from the dweebs in front of us. They started tossing candy straws, hard candies, and a whole lot of what looked like business cards from their ATV, mostly dropped right under their own wheels, so the runners-after-candy had to run way out into the street, or leave them to blow around or get run over. Possibly both. They tossed lots at first and then seemed to run out before the parade ended. We tossed ours as far towards the curb as possible, sometimes hitting the kids. (Softly. Honest!) I discovered early on that when your hand full of candy hits the frame of the window, the candies drop all over the floor inside instead of sailing out towards your intended benefactors. Oops.

The benefactors ran the gammut between interested and not, willing to chase into the street and restrained by parents, thankful and threatening. I'd like to think it was actually mock-threatening, but during a throwing lull when I was busy tearing open the second bag, we clearly heard one man shout, "Throw the candy or we'll egg the car!" I did. He didn't. I have no proof whatsoever of any cause-and-effect relationship.

One mom was busy maneuvering a stroller, and I called out to her that I wouldn't throw the candy if she wanted to come up to the car. I held out a handful, and she did. I did debate trying to throw some through the window of a food stand we passed close to, but thought better of it. They didn't look like they were into the parade.

But I clearly was.

As promised, I brought a few Tootsie Rolls home for Daddy. Cool weather, crowds, eyesight, and the fact that Paul was working and couldn't accompany him over to the parade route, all kept him home. The candy was a consolation prize. As I handed him his pieces, I realized I hadn't actually had one myself. Not one.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

When You Don't Have a Camera

There's got to be a corollary to Murphy's Law that says the best pictures appear when there's no camera along with which to record them. That happened to me three times yesterday.

The first was just after I hit the road, when the sun was up at just that perfect morning angle that highlights the warm colors. My drive takes me past a small lake with a farm on the other side. The barn has recently received a new coat of red paint, the trees are turning color, the lake surface was completely still, and the scene and its reflection were spectacular. I thought about heading over this morning for a re-creation, but while the sky is sunny, there's a breeze.

The second was when I got a run down to Shakopee. For those not paying attention to such local details, that heavy rain that hit southern Minnesota last week is currently heading up along the Minnesota River Valley, causing record fall flooding. (Oh yes, I just heard from my niece in Truman. They lucked out with just a little flooding in their basement.) Anyway, the specific bit of flooding that caught my eye was at Valley Fair, an amusement park located on the flood plain next to Shakopee. Hwy. 101 goes right past it, giving me a great view, and mostly the park was high and dry. But the end, down in the southwest corner, was flooded. I carry the image in my mind of the old wooden rollercoaster standing in dirty water, a study in browns, with one part of the track actually submerged at its lowest spot. Luckily it's October, so the fall weekends when it's expected to be open for business are past.

The last was, fittingly, at the very end of the day. Clouds had moved in with a cold front, and there were spotty showers through the afternoon. There was for the moment some clearing from the west, so as the sun hit the horizon, it lit up the clouds from below. This day the color of choice was an intense coral. It not only lit the ragged bottoms of eastern clouds, but the western sky positively glowed, so bright and intense that the clouds could have been reflecting an enormous fire, or been on fire themselves. It wasn't until the sun sank that one could tell that there were layers of clouds, with their edges selectively outlined, and not one enormous ball of color. I was driving north at the time, sneaking all the peeks it was safe to do over my shoulder while driving at freeway speeds until the show was over.