Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday Morning

I spent Tuesday morning waiting for the telephone to ring and keeping an eye on Lincoln Drive. I thought there might be a call from the doctor, but it never came. Still, the phone was unusually busy. There were three calls: one a political message, one a surprise and the other a wrong number.

Senator Sherrod Brown was the first to call. It wasn’t a personal call. It was a recorded message; one of those that doesn’t begin until you’ve said “hello” twice and are about to hang up. As it was, I stayed around long enough let the senator introduce himself, and then I hung up. That is the way I handle most recorded messages, especially those received at before 9:30 a.m., or at dinnertime or at any other inconvenient moment, and there is no convenient moment for an automated phone call. 

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I prefer junk mail.The unsolicited message in the mailbox probably won’t be read right away, and possibly won’t be read at all. But if it doesn’t get tossed immediately, I’ll probably end up taking a look at it. Besides, the amount of mail handled by the post office has fallen off twenty-two percent in the last five years, and it could use the business, even from those with franking privileges. 

Of course, if I have a message to deliver to a politician – whether he is an upright and honorable public servant or a self-serving scoundrel – I expect his complete and immediate attention. Double standards don’t get a lot of respect, but mine do come in handy now and then.

Mystery was afoot when the phone rang the next time. The call was from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the woman told me I had won a fleece bathrobe. Wow! I had no idea. How did that happen? It was from the concert at the church on Sunday, she told me. But I didn’t go to the concert. Your name and phone number are on the ticket, she said. Strange.

Picking up my prize presented a passel of problems. Being dependent on others for transportation, I wouldn’t be able to get there much before four o’clock. She said she normally leaves the church around noon. She offered to deliver it. Flabbergasted by my good luck, I said that would be great. But, ten minutes later it dawned on me that I don’t lounge around in a bathrobe. It’s been years since I had a robe, and I have never had the urge to go buy one. So, I called back and asked that the robe be given to someone who needs it. The church is helping a family through the Halo program, she said, and the robe will be given to them. That gave me a good feeling, but I’d still like to know how the robe became mine to give away.

Between phone calls, as I sat at the computer allegedly writing, but actually doing little more than staring out the window. A woman who lives up the street walked by, as she does twice almost every day. It was a pleasant Tuesday by December-in-northeast-Ohio standards, but this woman is not just a fair-weather walker. I spotted her going by several times last week while it was drizzling and at least once while it was flurrying. 

She is older than I – probably in her late seventies – has a pronounced limp and uses a cane. She is always accompanied by her dog. It must be tiring for her to walk when the weather is warm and pleasant. And I imagine walking is downright difficult for her when it’s cool and damp. No matter.

 One cold, rainy afternoon last week, her walk was interrupted when the dog stopped in front of a house across the street and used the tree lawn to do his business. When the dog was done, the woman got out a plastic bag, slowly bent down and collected the dog’s business. That’s when I realized that there are times when watching someone do poop patrol can be inspiring.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Let's Go Out to the Lobby

Everywhere you look people are scratching their heads, and not one of them has an itchy scalp. Citizens – well informed and otherwise – are wondering why elected officials, from city council members to members of Congress, are unable to do much of anything. Politicians whine at great length and then do nothing. Why is this?

Well, when it comes to insidiousness, many politicians tell us nothing is more insidious than welfare And why is welfare insidious? Because it is giving a person something for nothing. And what is political lobbying? It is giving money and gifts to politicians and getting nothing in return.
Should a curious person examine the remarks of politicians, from Congressmen to the members of the lowliest municipal board in the smallest village in the country, he will never find one who has been influenced by lobbyists. In fact, every politician vehemently denies that the favors he has received influenced his stand on the issues. And that must be the case because the same politicians constantly assure us they never lie. 

According to an article on, the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lobbyists showered members of the Missouri state legislature with tickets to this year’s National League playoffs and World Series. When the media started prying, which it always does for no other reason than to sell papers and boost ratings, the politicians proudly proclaimed they have not and will not repay the favors.

Missouri state senator Brian Nieves, a Republican, told reporters: "Nobody, no time, nowhere, no how is going to have any influence on me. I have never been influenced — that stuff is a joke." What a depressing commentary on the effect of lobbying on the nation’s elected officials. A man is given tickets to a divisional playoff game and a World Series game and all it does is strengthen his sense of entitlement. Is it any wonder elected officials never accomplish anything? 

Replace government with private enterprise, you say. That seems to be an easy answer. But, like most easy answers, it doesn’t hold up. A chart on indicates that 2.45 billion dollars was spent last year by those lobbying Congress and various Federal agencies. Not all that money came from organizations promoting American ideals; some of it came from groups spouting immoral, socialist nonsense. But if just half those lobbying dollars came from groups promoting free and unfettered enterprise, then the private sector spent 1.225 billion dollars to buy off people who can’t be bought. The money might as well have been flushed down the toilet. At least then it would have clogged the sewers and revealed another example of shoddy government workmanship. 

Perhaps it’s human nature to try to buy influence, even when those selling it simply take the money and run. If that is the case, we ought to be searching for ways to bring down the cost of lobbying. According to the group Public Citizen, forty-three percent of those who left Congress between 1998 and 2006 became lobbyists, with an average salary of two million dollars a year. That is a lot of money to spend on the impossible task of influencing steadfast, brave and honest politicians who will not be bought nor enticed into changing their minds. And, of course, the costs involved in lobbying are passed on to the consumer.

What is to be done? Why not let the unemployed do the lobbying? Lobbying is a pursuit that those lobbied tell us doesn’t produce results, not even minimal results. But millions of unemployed would be willing to lobby for minimal wages. It’s a perfect match. 

Because an elected official is immune to outside pressures, it won’t matter if the lobbyist who approaches him is wearing a tailored suit or scruffy blue jeans and ratty sneakers. Nor will it matter to the official if the lobbyist takes him to lunch at McDonald’s instead of a gourmet restaurant. The savings realized from lobbying on the cheap could result in lower prices for American consumers. But don’t bet on it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wherever Ego, I Go

The trouble with ego is that it must be fed from time to time. I like to think mine is an insignificant thing, a part of me that requires very little attention. Besides, it does better when it is nourished by others. I’m never sure whether people are being sincere or condescending when they say nice things. But who cares? My ego can’t get enough of it.

Recently, my ego has been strutting proudly and taking its lumps. The reason for both is the page on that lets me know how many people are reading my blog and the countries they are in when they access it. The numbers are not earth shattering. On a good day, the blog will have ten or fifteen page views. The good days are the days I post a link on Facebook, which leads me to believe the hits are from friends and relatives. Perhaps they’re reading it just to be kind, but at least they’re kind on a consistent basis. And consistent kindness, whether sincere or not, nourishes the hungry ego.

Not everyone who reads the blog, however, is a Facebook friend. Someone in Russia occasionally drops by. In fact, there have been days when more page views originated in Russia than in the United States, not that there were more than two or three from either country. Once I even got an e-mail from someone in Russia. It was written in the Cyrillic alphabet, and I had to run it through the Google translator. The writer didn’t express an opinion on my writing; he wanted to know if he could advertise in the Star Beacon

 That caused me to worry that the Russians might be up to something evil. Maybe they were trying to get into my computer to relieve me of my identity and the paltry pile of cash in my savings account. But on a more egotistical note, I have spent a significant amount time thinking the Russians are stealing the things I’ve written and making trillions of rubles selling them as the work of Ivan Rippenov. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if they shared a few rubles with me, but they haven’t. Still, my ego being what it is, enjoys going to bed believing I’m Russia’s latest literary sensation.
But there has also been a worrisome visitor. A week ago, someone looked around the blog from a website with the ominous name I admit to having some large gaps where teeth used to be, but I don’t think they’re big enough to be spotted from cyberspace. I am convinced it has to do with how I write or what I write about. Every word I put down must cry out, “These are the thoughts of an addled no-longer-young person.”

Do readers see me as a doddering old fool? There would be advantages: all my typos would be overlooked. “Don’t pay any attention to the misspellings, missing words and silly syntax,” the persnickety reader might say. “He’s not as sharp as he used to be, and he wasn’t very sharp to begin with.” Or maybe they picture me – at least the ones who remember Laugh In – as the lecherous character on the park bench who was always hoping to seduce Ruth Buzzi. The guy who defined the hereafter as “If you’re not here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone.”

Giving the impression that I’m a spirited skirt-chasing geezer is better than being thought of as a dispirited fogy. But, sounds like an advertising campaign targeting the old and toothless. And it’s taken a bite out of my ego.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oodles of Tuna Noodle

Tom emptied a bag of egg noodles into the pot of boiling water, gave them a quick stir, set the oven for 350 and went looking for cream of celery soup and tuna. He wasn't a stranger to the kitchen. Because he got home from work an hour-and-a-half before Debbie, his wife, Tom was the weekday cook. He was a step - maybe two - above adequate at the stove, and most of the meals he prepared were more challenging than tuna-noodle casserole.

He had been looking forward to pork chops all day until Bethany, their eight-year-old daughter, asked for tuna-noodle. How could he say "no" when she begged with pleading voice and imploring eyes? But when he opened the kitchen cabinet, he realized it would have been wiser to make sure all the ingredients were on hand before starting. As Tom's search became more frantic, Bethany, perched on the counter, began to worry. "You promised, Daddy," she said. Fortunately, the soup and tuna turned up behind the box of shredded wheat.

Tom poured the soup into a bowl, added a little milk and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and gave Bethany a tablespoon to stir the concoction. Then he opened the tuna and squeezed out the liquid gunk. When Tom pronounced the noodles done, Bethany got the colander.

He covered the bottom of the casserole dish with a layer of noodles, put some tuna on top of them and put another layer of noodles on top of that. Tom thought it would be easier to dump everything into the casserole and stir, but The Joy of Cooking said to layer the noodles and tuna. Every job needs a boss, and Bethany was delighted to provide the required supervision. As she watched him put the final layer of noodles into the casserole, she said, "Daddy, don't use all of them." He left a fistful of noodles, and then, again in accordance with the rules set down in The Joy of Cooking, poured the soup mixture on top of the noodles and tuna. But not all the soup; Bethany requested he leave some in the bowl. While he put the casserole in the over, she took a noodle, smeared it around in the soup bowl and popped it in her mouth. Then she took another one and repeated the process, and kept repeating it until the noodles were gone.

The greatest reward a parent can get for cooking dinner, Tom thought, was watching his children enjoy the meal, even if they didn't always wait for it to be cooked.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

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