The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘Grandma’ Category

WHO INVENTED TOAST?

As a kid I realized that my interests were different from those of many my age.  The boys were interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would make it into the World Series.  The girls wondered whether they could make their Barbie even more alluring if they put some of their mothers’ lipstick on her.  I didn’t understand why kids were interested in either of those subjects.

I had been taught by my parents  that one of the first responsibilities of being a civilized person was listening to others, no matter the subject matter or what their opinion was.  This resulted in several occasions where I had self-inflicted wounds to the palms of my hand, caused by my nails digging into the flesh as I tried patiently to wait for the subject to change to something in which I had an interest.  There were some days that never happened – many days.

At a fairly early age, I realized and started to accept the fact that I was “different” from other kids my age.  In fact, I could readily picture myself growing up and being “different” as an adult.  This was not a judgment about who was better but merely an understanding that I had an alternative path to follow than others.  I thought that path might not have many fellow travellers on it – and that has proven to be the case.  And I longed to be transformed somehow so that I could change my route and find myself happily treading the road that so many others followed and with which they were content.  That never happened either.

One of the manifestations of my self-realization came in the form of a nightmare which repeated itself over several nights.  I was buried in Times Square in a glass coffin.  I could look out and see people walking over me on their way to work or one of the girlie joints that existed at that time – or perhaps rushing to the Automat to grab a quick bite to eat.  I remember crying out, “I’m here.  Somebody help me get out.”  But no one seemed either to hear me or to care enough to make an effort.  Fortunately, that nightmare went away, although mentioning it these many years later still sends a shiver up my spine.  Years later I realized that the line from “Cool Hand Luke,” ‘What we have here is failure to communicate” was pure plagiarism.  But not being a litigious person, I have no plans to sue the screenwriters.

One morning at breakfast one of the great questions of all time overwhelmed me.   Two eggs over easy, hash browns, three strips of crisp bacon and a couple toasted slices of Grandma’s homemade bread.  (I had already drunk the small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice – with pulp included).

There I was looking at breakfast. and it hit me as I cut into the yolk of one of the eggs and tore off a piece of the bread to soak up the yellow liquid.  “Who invented toast?,” I thought to myself.  This seemed to me, at the moment, to be the most profound and interesting question that anyone had ever posed.  Even though I was really hungry, I was tempted to set down my fork and walk over to “The Encyclopedia Britannica” and read about the history of how toast had come into existence.  But based on previous experience with eggs over easy, eating them cold wasn’t very appealing.  So I ate breakfast quickly, forgetting to enjoy it, and then, after bringing my plates into the kitchen, stood on the couch so that I could reach the “T” volume.

I thought that all the knowledge of the universe was contained in my encyclopedia.  I anxiously thumbed through the “T” articles, “Th,” “Ti”, “To” finally I was almost there.  Finally, I came on the entry.  The EB described (briefly) what toast was – but there was no reference to what I’m sure must be a very dignified pedigree belonging to the individual who invented it.  What a let down.  I already knew what toast was.  The book was absolutely no help.  So I turned to Grandma, my go to backup source.

“Grandma, who invented toast?”  She always looked at me very lovingly.  But somehow I felt that I had an insight into her mind and after I asked that question, I could see her thinking, “What a special child.”  She always liked to keep her inner thoughts quite charitable.  “Sweetheart, I really don’t know.”  A lesser person might have had a different thought after being asked that question by a ten year old.

Frustrated at being left in the dark, I gathered my books and went to school, making sure that my homework was ready and with me.  Sometimes, when I was in the middle of solving one of life’s mysteries, I had a tendency to leave things behind, absorbed, as I was with my great thoughts.

I didn’t pay much attention at school that morning.  How could I?  I debated whether or not I should ask my teacher, Mrs. Bounds my question.  She was a very wise person and very nice.  But a couple of times she had mentioned how she and her husband were going out to dinner at this restaurant or another – so I didn’t think she cooked very often and probably wouldn’t know the answer.  So I waited for lunch.

When we all filed into the lunchroom, I grabbed a tray, the silverware, a napkin and a container of milk.  We had beef stew that day and I helped myself to two slices of bread to soak up the gravy.  Mrs. Johnson served my stew and handed me my plate.  She was quite elderly and obviously she must have cooked or she wouldn’t be handing out beef stew to little kids, so I blurted out, “Mrs. Johnson, who invented toast?”  As I read her inner thoughts, I saw that they contained little of the gentility that I had experienced when I had asked Grandma the same question.  They were more along the lines of, “Only two more years of this and I’m going to retire.”  But she replied quite politely, “I really don’t know dear.”  And she smiled somewhat dismissively, suggesting that I was holding up the line and should move along.  So I did.

I asked several of my classmates and my friends my question.  But the boys were more interested in speculating about whether the Yankees would be in the World Series and the girls wondered if putting their mothers’ lipstick on Barbie would make her more alluring and I could tell they really weren’t interested in discussing my question – since they told me so.

More than a half century has gone by and I still don’t have an answer to my question.  Fortunately, I only think about it once in a while so it’s not a source of great emotional distress.  But, if you’re reading this and know “Who invented toast,” I would greatly appreciate your getting in touch and telling me.  And if you have the answer, you’re just the kind of person who must be walking my somewhat lonesome path and probably can answer my next question.  “Who invented butter?”

Let’s walk along together.  I’m sure we will have a lot to discuss.

 

 

THE CHANGE PURSE

It was a Christmas present from my mother to hers.  Perhaps you might not consider it to be a gift of significance, a mere change purse and, for that matter, one that looked like the one that Grandma had in service for a decade, but you would be misinformed.  There was no “accessory” that was more important to Grandma than this little black leather purse with the silver-like top and clasp.  It was at the center of her managing her finances – a matter that she took with the utmost seriousness.

Grocery shopping was an almost daily routine in Grandma’s life.  She reasoned, “Why would I stock up on produce which will only lose its freshness in the refrigerator if I can buy something daily at the produce stands?”  Of course, like most businesses then, the stands were closed on Sunday so Saturdays were particularly busy.  Most people who had the time seemed to share Grandma’s view on buying lettuce, tomatoes and cantaloupes.  It was a part of their daily lives.

When Grandma went to the store she would, of course, take her purse containing her little bit of monetary treasure.  The change purse, sometimes bulging with coins and sometimes quite slim, was always at the bottom of the purse, usually with a few other items placed on top of it, perhaps so that a potential purse snatcher might miss it in case he made a dash and grab.  The outer part of the purse had a zippered compartment in which the few bills that Grandma would take with her were carefully folded, the larger denominations, never more than a twenty, were nestled, secured inside the smaller bills.

When the clerk told her the total of her purchases, Grandma would reach in her purse, unbury the change purse from its hiding place, open the clasp and begin counting out change.  It was always better to try to pay for as much of the purchase with coins before having to resort to using paper.  Those bills were hard to come by.  But I wondered, “Where did all the money that filled that change purse come from in the first place?”  And then one day I found the answer.

On the third of each month, or the fourth if the third fell on a Sunday, a little group of our apartment building’s residents would assemble near the mail boxes in the downstairs hallway.  Our mailman, Mr. Shapiro, right on schedule, would appear promptly at nine thirty to distribute the mail to the forty boxes.  The group, including Grandma had two characteristics in common.  They all had gray (or very little) hair and they all were awaiting the arrival of their monthly social security checks.  Since we lived in one of the “A” apartments, our mail was deposited early on in this process which was a good thing since then Grandma could collect it and return to the chores she had set for himself to accomplish that day.

But how did that one piece of paper turn into all those coins and the green money with the pictures of presidents and other important people?  That was my first lesson in banking and finance.

Grandma bought all the groceries for our family of four and paid for them out of her social security check – a check that was for a little more than one hundred fifty dollars a month.  The Saturday after she received her check, she and I would make our way to Fourth Federal Savings and Loan Association to cash it.  Despite the fact that there was a bank just a few blocks away, she went to Fourth Federal because they paid an extra one quarter percent interest per year (four and one quarter percent) and because they credited all deposits which were made by the tenth of the month as if they had been made on the first.  Ten days of extra interest and a higher rate.  Despite her third grade formal education, Grandma understood the basics of economics and interest.

She had been one of the earlier depositors with Fourth Federal and owned Account number 1093-4.  The four signified that her current passbook was the fourth one they had issued for her account, the other ones having been filled with earlier transactions.  She still had these old books and showed them to me.  The first two had been handwritten but Fourth Federal had moved into the modern age of technology and had since implemented a system where these transactions were printed by a machine at each bank teller’s work station.  What would they think of next?

There were two things I noticed when I looked at these passbooks.  The first was that ever since Grandma made her initial ten dollar deposit, she had never made a withdrawal.  The only entries were additional deposits and interest that had posted to her account.  Month after month and year after year she had continued to add to her account without fail.  This stemmed from her belief that if you didn’t have the money to buy something you did without and her second belief, probably stemming from earlier hard times and doing without a lot of things that she would have liked to have bought her daughters or herself, that this little nest egg was inviolable.

When we got to the S & L, Grandma reached in her purse to pull out her check and endorsed it.  She carefully entered the amount on the line that said “Checks.”  She then pulled out her change purse, unzipped the pocket containing the bills, pulled them out and counted them.  These were “leftovers” from last month.  That month she had saved twenty-two dollars after paying all her expenses.  She subtracted that and the twenty dollars she saved each month and requested her cash back in the amount of one hundred eight dollars.

The teller, a middle aged woman who had been with the S & L since they opened asked how she would like her cash.  Two twenties, four tens, two fives and eighteen singles.  Eight of those singles would be set aside for a two dollar a week donation to be placed in the collection plate at church.

When Grandma received her money, she held it in her hand and we returned to the little desk that had the deposit and withdrawal slips on it.  She pulled the twenty-two dollars from the side pocket of her change purse and sandwiched those bills in with her withdrawal, making sure that all the bills faced in the same direction before zipping them back in the pocket and burying this little hoard in the bottom of her purse.  We then began immediately for home without stopping since this was far too much money for a person to carry on herself at one time.

But before we left the S & L, Mr. Bohanek, the president stopped by to say hello to us.  He was a ruddy faced, sandy haired man with tortoise shell glasses who always enjoyed speaking with his depositors.  He and the loan committee decided to whom their institution would make loans, long before there were such things as credit scores.  Instead, they based their decisions on a person’s character and credibility.  They must have been good judges of those as rarely did they make a loan on which the borrower failed to make repayment.  Perhaps that also was a statement about how people treated their financial responsibilities in those days.

When we returned home, Grandma put her purse on the little desk in our apartment’s foyer.  She removed the change purse, unzipped the side and pulled out all but twenty five dollars from the pocket.  That would be more than enough to buy the groceries for the week.  The rest went into a yellowed business size envelope that she had used for many years to house the remainder until it was needed.  That envelope went back into the secret compartment in the desk.  And then the change purse went back into the bottom of her purse where it would rest until her next shopping trip.  She used this change purse for the next eleven years until her death.

I still have that worn black leather change purse.  It is a relic of a simpler time, a time when people had a different attitude toward life.  It was a time when we appreciated the simple things and were grateful for the gifts we had received in loving friends and families.  It was a time when simple things were more than enough to keep us happy, believing that if we had enough simple things they could grow into great things and the future would be bright.  It was a time when security meant having a little black leather change purse, bulging with coins with a few bills neatly folded in a little zipped up pocket on the side.  It was a very good time to live in America.

SILK PURSES AND SOWS’ EARS

Today the president cranked up the road show which we are warned will continue daily for the next three weeks to tout the virtues of Obamacare.  He used a tried and true formula that direct mail marketeers have employed for decades.  Perhaps you’ve received some literature from them in the past.

If you have you’ll recognize the shtick.  On very inexpensive paper you will be solicited to explore the wonderful new system that the mailer has discovered which is guaranteed to turn your humble financial life into that of an affluent nabob.  The “system” is guaranteed and fool-proof.  If you only remit the modest sum of $8.95 which includes the shipping charge, you will soon have delivered to you the secret of how to become wealthy almost overnight.

Naturally, in order to convince you to part with this modest sum of money, not only does the discoverer of this remarkable system share with you the story of his personal success, he includes the testimonials of a variety of earlier subscribers who attest to their own new found wealth as they employed the system they received.  These testimonials bear their abbreviated names, such as Sharon L. – Daytona, FL or Larry C. – Indianapolis, IN.

If you are still doubtful, thinking to yourself, “Why would anyone give away this key to riches for such a modest price,?” the author has an answer.  You see he has already made more money than he can ever spend, now has four houses on both coasts with a Rolls Royce in the driveway of each and two chateaux overseas and it is because he is so grateful for his good fortune that he wants to share his wealth creating system with other, less fortunate souls.  Of course, that begs the question, “Why didn’t you just send me the book for free instead of sending me an ad for it?”

Once again, there is an answer in the material.  You see the author does not want to “Cast his pearls before swine,” and your modest “investment” is merely an expression of both your commitment and your good faith, proving that you are the kind of person who will actually utilize and deserves to be blessed by this remarkable discovery.

I couldn’t help but think of these many mail solicitations that I have received over the years as I listened to the president today.  The presentation, replete with testimonials about people who have benefitted from Obamacare lacked as much credibility as any of the “get-rich-quick” schemes that I have been offered.  Which is not to say that there are not people who will indeed benefit from the law – and that is a good thing.  But the honest question which everyone, irrespective of party affiliation should be asking is, “At what price?”

Anytime a law is enacted it affects people.  That is, in fact, the reason for creating it in the first place.  And the more sweeping the law, naturally the more people who are affected by it.  Obamacare is as sweeping a law as has been passed for perhaps close to a century.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that millions are being affected – and at this point in time, it is fair to say that those effects have predominantly been perverse.

The stated goal of this program is to “insure every American” – yet we know that by the administration’s own admission, they still expect that 30 million will remain uninsured.  So if that is the fundamental premise and reason for implementation, it is flawed from the beginning.

In part because of the inadequacy of the website, fewer enrollees have signed up than are necessary for this plan to work (hence today’s dog and pony show – to tout the “improvements” and get the gullible to sign on).  What the president omitted from his presentation is that for every person signing up for Obamacare, fifty have already lost their coverage due to Obamacare – and more of those cancellations, far more, can be expected next year.

But this attempt to sell America on Obamacare focuses only on one side of a multi-faceted issue.  It emphasizes the importance of getting insurance but it fails to address the question of “What do you do with it once you have it?”

More and more we are hearing from the medical community that they simply will not honor or participate in this program.  So, in essence, you now have a wonderful magic card and a plan booklet that is unusable.  Most of us would not consider that to be a benefit – especially when you realize that you were forced to buy this product of dubious value.

The president likes to make comparisons between Obamacare and its problems and the glitches that Apple has had with various product releases.  It seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in that argument – or maybe two.

The first is that within a short period of time and at minimal cost, Apple fixed its problems.  The same cannot be said of Obamacare the law or Obamacare the website.

The second is that by simply letting the public know when the latest iPhone is going to be released, people in the droves queue up at their local Apple store to be one of the first to buy it.  Obamacare – not so much.

It is, in a world of “change” and “moving on” perhaps arcane to mention an old adage which I first heard from my Grandmother.  And though it may be old-fashioned and trite, it’s still true.

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

A SKEPTIC’S VIEW ON “HEALTHCARE”

Grandma taught me a lesson at an early age.  It was a lesson that as a child I didn’t really appreciate or understand.  “Sweetheart, if you have your health you have everything.”  I adored my Grandmother but I thought filling up the page of my stamp album with all the pretty stamps or getting an A on the history test were far more important.  Then I got older – and then I grew up.

Because she was widowed at an age when my mother and aunt were young, she had to work hard to get by.  She held two jobs and took in other peoples’ laundry to make ends meet and to save a little bit each week.  Sadly, back in the 1920’s there were no social financial safety nets – other than what you might receive from family, friends or neighbors.

Grandma was not obsessed by money.  She never anticipated, nor did she have aspirations to become wealthy.  But she definitely understood that it was a bad thing not to be able to pay her bills and she worked diligently so that neither she nor her children were ever in that position.

Part of Grandma’s profound understanding of economics, based less than on her third grade education than on the experience she gained by attending the “School of Hard Knocks” was that income was only one component of being financially secure.  The other was how she spent what she had earned.  So she would go to five or six different grocers to buy the finest quality produce at the best possible price.  If she were president of the United States, this country would be running annual surpluses – which then could be used to help those who had not learned or didn’t care about the lessons she had been taught by life.

I don’t believe my Grandmother thought of herself as a Libertarian.  I’m not sure that the word had even been coined while she was alive.  But if she were with us today, I’m sure that she would identify far more closely with that system of government than what we find ourselves saddled with today.  And perhaps, by osmosis, that is why I view the world as I do.

Let me say that my views do not necessarily follow a “party line.”  There are very few essential issues to which virtually all Libertarians subscribe.  Beyond believing in a  limited amount of  government intervention in our lives and taking personal responsibility for our actions,, many of us who consider ourselves to be Libertarians are free to agree or disagree.  That, in itself, differentiates the Libertarian from most people who subscribe to the dogma promulgated by other political parties.  We do not have to subscribe blindly to the party “platform” in order to be considered loyal partisans.  That is, of course, also the weakness of Libertarianism.

Perhaps a better word to use to define Libertarianism is the phrase, “people who are skeptical.”  While we commonly accept the word “skeptic” as meaning a person who doubts, the derivation comes from the Greek “skeptikos” which refers to a person who investigates.  So with that in mind, let’s investigate why Obamacare isn’t working – at least not as it was touted it would.

First, I think it is fair to say that the primary premise behind the law was that it would enable every American to get health insurance.  In that respect it makes the assumption that having health insurance is the equivalency of having healthcare and that those who do not currently have health insurance would, with great avidity, seek it out.  Granted, there have been difficulties with access to the website which might have deterred some of the uninsured from investigating their new options.  But the most recent polls suggest that only one in five of those who are uninsured have even bothered to try to see what options are available to them.

If I were marketing a product that I was convinced “everybody” wanted and needed but found in surveys that only one in five actually had an interest, I would probably revise my expectations and my marketing strategies.

Second, Obamacare approaches the question of “healthcare” only from the standpoint of the consumer – not the medical establishment.   It doesn’t require skepticism to realize that if our doctors and hospitals are not willing to accept people who are covered by the new “health insurance” because of the minimal reimbursements which are being offered to them, they will find more profitable ways to do business and those who hold these new insurance policies will find themselves holding a worthless piece of paper.

If we were to purchase a product that was advertised on national television and discovered when we went to use it that it simply did not work, all sorts of government agencies, in the interest of “consumer protection,” would be filing law suits against the manufacturer and probably drive that company out of business.

Third, I have said many times that we do not now have and will not have after Obamacare a “healthcare system.”  What we truly have is a “disease maintenance” system.  If we were serious about improving the nation’s health, we should focus on having a “wellness system.”  But there are several problems with that concept.

The first is that there is very little money in providing “wellness.”  The healthy individual does not go to the doctor, other than for an annual physical exam and does not need the services provided in our advanced operating rooms.  Nor does she require prescriptions that support our pharmaceutical companies and our drug stores.

The second problem is that living a healthy lifestyle requires effort – individual effort.  It means that the individual must accept responsibility for his own good health and that requires discipline.  Americans like things fast.  That includes food – whether at a franchised McDonald’s or from the freezer of our grocery stores.  These products may be FDA approved – but that doesn’t mean that they promote good health.

The FDA and the Department of Agriculture also approve the way in which we raise and feed the factory-farm animals that contribute significantly to our diets.  The estimates are that 90% of the FDA approved antibiotics which are manufactured are fed to these animals.  As we ingest them in our meals, we naturally absorb the antibiotics that the slaughtered animals consumed during their brief lives.  Why, therefore, should we be surprised that the NIH has raised concerns that antibiotics are no longer proving to have the efficacy they once did as new “super bugs” are proving resistant to them?

It’s one thing to refer to problems and criticize and quite another to offer positive solutions.  But in a country which has almost universally accepted the concept of “disease maintenance” as “the way things are,” it is unlikely that either Obamacare or any variation of it will prove effective in the long term.  Our “healthcare system” will continue to hemorrhage both blood and red ink.  And it will be up to the individual to look after her or his own well-being.  That is if the government will let those few of us who believe this to follow our hearts and our consciences.

As Grandma said, “When you have your health you have everything.”  For those who do not believe that statement – well, they have Obamacare.

A BIT OF GRANDMA’S WISDOM

My little maternal grandmother was a formally uneducated woman yet she possessed more wisdom than all the Solons we have sitting on Capitol Hill.  She had that rarest of commodities, one which is called common sense and while it had not been learned from school books it had come to her through life experience.  I recognized her genius at a very early age.

I will never forget sitting in our little living room one afternoon on returning home from grammar school.  I had helped a classmate on the telephone the previous night with a math problem and was a little miffed that when I saw him the following day he never even said, “Thank you”.

Grandma explained the whole thing in a nutshell when she said to me, “There are two kinds of people in this world.  There are givers and there are takers.”

As I advanced from grade to grade in school and the world of history opened up to me I realized how correct Grandma’s statement was.  The whole world, at least politically, was full of givers and takers.

At one time most people were ruled over by Kings and Grand Dukes, Czars and Emperors with an occasional Queen thrown into the mix.  They were the takers, empowered to be such by the Western doctrine of “The Divine Right of Kings.”

They lived, by the standards that then existed, in luxury, opulence and with the realistic expectation that all their needs, wants and desires would be supplied.  They were, by virtue of their births the entitled ones.

But in order for them to continue this lifestyle there had to be those who would provide all that they needed.  In those times, the givers were the peasants and those lesser members of the nobility who had sworn allegiance  to the Sovereign.

Mostly it was the peasants who did the back breaking work, cleaning the castles, cooking and serving the food and doing all the other mundane chores which needed to be done to maintain royalty in its rightful place of honor.  There was no token of gratitude from their liege lord for their efforts – as that was their place and why should one reward someone for doing a thing that was his bounden duty and rightful service?

Over the centuries. with the advent of more wide spread education. it occurred to more and more of us that being ruled by a person whose place was accorded to him by an accident of birth was not the most desirable way to run a country.  Thus, other political systems began to be implemented in which the governors were elected by those who were governed.

This was a movement known as democracy which was not a perfect solution but, to the many, appeared to be a big improvement over the way affairs had previously been conducted.  Beginning in the 18th century, this surging wave swept into history under the name of “The Age of Enlightenment” and it swept aside the English Colonies in the new world, transforming them into the United States of America and in later years led to the downfall of the monarchies in France and Italy and Spain and Russia  to name only a few.  While not everyone gravitated to democracy, there was a world-wide rejection of the old monarchical system and today there are few vestiges of it that are left.

As I mentioned, this new system was not perfect.  Nothing that humanity attempts, no matter how genuinely and sincerely motivated is.  As none of us is omniscient, even the best intended of our efforts often have unintended consequences which we did not or choose not to contemplate.

The “American experiment” is now well over two hundred years old.  It has provided a beacon to much of the rest of the world for most of that time.  But it is now staggering, perhaps because it is relying on its former successes, perhaps because those who crafted the dream have died off and been replaced with those who are the beneficiaries of their forebears efforts but have never done anything themselves to make the dream a reality.

While Grandma identified this struggle in her simple way as being a battle between two groups – the “givers” and the “takers”, I have a slightly different explanation as I have the benefit of having seen additional history since she taught me that lesson as a child.

Yes, there are two groups in America today.  They are those who work for a living; and those who take from the working.

I am confident that, were she alive today, Grandma would agree with my common sense analysis of the way things are – because common sense, combined with a heavy dose of morality, were her dearest and most priceless guiding principles.

NEVER NEVER LAND

“Fathom the hypocrisy of a government that requires every citizen to  prove that they are insured – but not everyone must prove that they are a citizen.  So an illegal immigrant actually has more freedom than an American citizen because they are not forced to purchase healthcare.”

– Dr. Barbara Bellar (From a speech discussing the implications of the Affordable Care Act – a/k/a Obamacare).

Some of my acquaintances think that requiring a picture State ID or Driver’s License in order to vote presents an inordinate and cumbersome burden on some eligible members of our community.  They view this merely as a disguised attempt at preventing these people from voting (an updated version of the poll tax which was banned through the adoption of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution in 1964).

I find this attitude pitiable as I reflect on my own immigrant grandmother whose formal education ended when she was nine years old; who taught herself a foreign language (English); who became a citizen as soon as she was eligible to do so; and who viewed one of her most fundamental rights and obligations as participating in her adopted country’s electoral process by never failing to vote in every election.

Grandma had an interesting (and I think informed) way of deciding who deserved her support.  If there were a “Common Sense Party” she would certainly have registered as a member.  In its absence, she never affiliated with either of the two major parties but gleaned as much information about each candidate for each office and voted for the ones she viewed as offering the most practical solutions without respect to party label.  All this from a woman with only a third grade formal education.

Back in the days when grandma voted (and during most of the elections in my own lifetime) Election Day was THE day when you cast your ballot.  There was no such thing as “Early Voting”.  If it happened that it was a bleak and raw November day when she and I voted for our country’s representatives and President; if the lines at the polling place were long and people had to stand outside in the cold and snow while waiting their turn to vote, stomping their feet to keep the blood circulating, that’s what you did in order to express your opinion.

Sure, there may have been some grousing and banter among the voters, “Why is this taking so long?,” and “Don’t they train the election judges on how to do their jobs?,”  but we endured this.  And the people who had to wait an hour in line to cast their vote could look back on the inconvenience of their wait with pride as a small statement about how they had fulfilled their civic duty.

By comparison, the election process has become far easier.  And in a sense, that is unfortunate because that translates to trivializing the meaning of what it means to be a citizen and what it means to participate in the process.  Perhaps the statement that we hear regarding doing reps at the gym applies here, “No pain, no gain”.

And yet, even with the simplification of the electoral process, even with all we have done to make it totally painless to vote, according to the estimates, less than six out of ten of us will bother to participate on November 6th.  The word “shocking” comes to mind, but I believe it doesn’t go far enough to describe the apathy of forty percent of us Americans.

I can say with absolute certainty that if my grandmother, who never learned to drive a car, needed to get a picture ID from New York State she would have saved the money to purchase one, even if it cost $100.  There are two reasons for this.  She had a strong belief that a person had to take pride in her actions – and she accepted accountability for herself.

At this point you may wonder why I began this post with a quotation about Obamacare.  The reason is really quite simple.  Under the provisions of the Act, beginning in 2014, each citizen will need to prove that he or she has purchased health insurance – or be subject to a tax in the amount of $695 enforced by the IRS.

Thinking about this logically, if a person, needing it, cannot make the effort to line up transportation to get a State ID; if they cannot afford the nominal fee for obtaining one that most states charge; do you really think that they are going to buy a health insurance plan which is going to cost them several thousand dollars a year?  Or, for that matter, failing that and being in violation of the law, they will have the money to pay the tax which Obamacare imposes?

If you truly believe that, I hope you’re enjoying your stay in Never Never Land.

ON BEING CHEAP

I was fortunate to come from a home that was loving and caring and generous.  I realize that is not an experience that all of us shared.  But it was my experience and it formulated the way I have tried to live my life.

When grandma cooked dinner for us – or for invited guests – there was always enough to serve at least three times the number of us gathered at the table.  She believed it would be shameful to send a guest away hungry – and she frequently prepared little bags of food for them to take home from the leftovers.  (I do not remember any of these guests ever refusing this gift).

Grandma’s ranking of people was simple.  If a guest said that he or she was full after only one generous plate, they probably fell to the bottom of the guest list.  A person who asked for seconds would definitely be invited back within a month.  A person who asked for thirds became a weekly regular.  It was a simple philosophy based on the satisfaction that grandma got from people who enjoyed her cooking.

Occasionally my father would take me to Schraft’s for an ice cream soda.  They made the best “black and whites” – vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup and club soda that I ever tasted.  It was a place where a lot of women would gather for a little social get-together – a sort of Marie Callender’s before they came on the scene.

It seemed to me that in order to eat at Schraft’s you had to be an accountant.  A typical table of four ladies would finish their lunch and divide up the check.  The conversation would go something like:

“Now, Constance you had the shrimp salad and they charged us extra because you requested toasted almonds.  Beatrice, you ordered your salad with Roquefort dressing and that was extra.”  And it would go on, each person’s bill itemized down to the last penny – and the tip computed exactly to the cent of the expected fifteen percent.

Although I was young I thought this was an incredible waste of time and effort – and it really exemplified penny-pinching at its highest level.  It drove me crazy.  Would any of these dowagers really have their lives impacted if they forked over thirty-seven cents more than was her fair share?  I resolved never to be like them.

Years later a group of eight of us would get together monthly for a dinner outing.  We would generally select a new restaurant to try out.  The “leader of the group”, I will call him Stanley and his wife Nanley would invariably order the least expensive item on the restaurant’s menu.  I could appreciate their need for frugality as they had three children and Stanley was going to night school to earn his law degree.

My life at Schraft’s flashed before my eyes once a month as Stanley would emulate the New York dowagers and would divide up the bill between the eight of us so that each paid his or her fair share based on what we had ordered.  I used to roll my eyes as the bill arrived and the division began.  (I always came equipped with a pocketful of change so that I didn’t have to worry about getting a few pennies back in change from Stanley).

This monthly dining ritual went on for several years.  One night we selected a new restaurant, Kon Tiki Ports.  It was a sort of quasi-Polynesian place with more ambiance than exciting cuisine.  As we reviewed the menu, Stanley and Nanley thought that the assorted appetizer offering, the restaurant’s “Pu Pu Platter” looked intriguing.  So they ordered that – and enjoyed it so much that they ordered a second one which they split between themselves.  They had the most expensive meal of the eight of us.

Well, the bill arrived and Stanley said, “Well, there are eight of us and the bill comes to thus and so much.  Let’s just divide it by eight.”   There were six of us who had waited in the wings for dozens of these dinners and with one voice we cried out, “Didn’t you and Nanley have two Pu Pu Platters?  We think we should divide the check up as we always have – based on what each of us ordered.”  Fairness prevailed and Stanley and Nanley paid for the entirety of their meal.

Eventually the group drifted apart.  Some moved out of Chicago – others found new interests – and I was too busy with work to continue our monthly dinners.  As the dinner outings were our main cohesive force I didn’t see or hear from many of the members of the group – and this included Stanley and Nanley.  We all went about our lives in our different directions.

There is a moral to this story.  Stanley did receive his law degree and began the practice of his chosen profession.  I knew this because he and Nanley threw a little party in celebration in their apartment, commemorating the event.  All those of us who were still in town were invited.

That was the last time we gathered socially – and other than running into one or the other of them on the street was really the last I knew of them.  \

Until one day …

I was driving to work one morning when the news came on the radio.  Stanley’s name was mentioned and I paused to listen to what was being said about him.  Apparently, he had been indicted for being the “bag man” for laundering money for a variety of politicians’ political campaigns.  (Subsequently, Stanley pled guilty and was sentenced to four years’ incarceration).

So it goes to prove that, “Crime doesn’t pay”.  And “cheap” pays even less.

Tag Cloud