Today’s Times—Where the Common Good for all is only an option

As I was driving around town this morning, a message displayed on an electronic sign caught my eye:

            Obey all speed laws.  Stop at all stop signs.

You mean, there are so many scofflaws among us that the most obvious things must be spelled out on signs around the city?

What’s the next sign: Breathe in, breathe out.  Blink on occasion?

Better yet:

            Get a driver’s license.  Be considerate of others.

Folks, we are living in an era where the majority of people choose to ignore rules that make our society civilized.  In other words, the uncivilized are gaining in numbers.

Those of us who do obey speed laws and stop signs pray that we don’t encounter those who don’t for it could land us either in the hospital or in a cemetery.

Look at the division when it comes to wearing masks.  Some people still get it, that wearing a mask during a pandemic is a health issue, not a political one.  But many others view it as an impingement on their civil rights.

There’s a guy at the YMCA where I work out who does not follow the rules of keeping your mask on at all times or to wipe down the equipment before and after use.

When he checks in at the front desk, he wears a mask.  But as soon as he on the treadmill or the stair climber apparatus, the mask goes below his chin. 

Even as he perspires heavily all over these machines, he does not use paper towels and disinfectant solution to make the machine sanitary for the next user.  It makes you wonder if he even washes his hands or wipes his butt after using the bathroom.

I informed the Y director of this, but with only 3 employees manning a 3-story building, it is impossible for them to monitor mask usage.  And when they do tell a guest to cover their face, within minutes of leaving the room, the guest drops the mask down under the chin again.

This behavior is blatant disregard for being a good citizen.  Even with others in the same room dutifully wearing masks, he decides the rules don’t pertain to him.  He has no shame, figuring who is going to tell him to wear a mask despite signs displayed on walls and machines encouraging to do it “for all of us.”  That is a foreign concept to many.

These people make living life unpleasant for the good folks who follow rules, who were brought up properly.

Well, those lawbreakers need to learn how societies operate.  Rules are in place to ensure the safety of ALL people.  Reminiscent of the Pledge of Allegiance, you know—“with liberty and justice for all.”

One of the nice things about being a teacher was that I could control society in my classroom.

No matter how many kids misbehaved at home or with other teachers, my students respected my expectations of their behaviors.  I discovered after 31 years in the classroom that children craved routine and discipline.  Why?  Because school was often the only place where they had it.

So, those of you who are decent, law-abiding people, beware out there because most others don’t care about you or your loved ones.

Don’t Bother with Brother

If you are shopping for a printer, DON’T BUY BROTHER.

This advice comes from a former Brother customer.   When my first multi-function Brother printer stopped working five years ago, I bought another one because I liked the features and speed.  Also, Brother printers are often rated highly by independent sources.

That’s why it was distressful when a few weeks ago my second Brother printer stopped communicating to our computers, not lasting as long as the first. At our house, multiple people print off the same printer so wireless functionality is a must.

So, I went to the Brother website to get the customer service number.

Whenever you need help with a Brother product, the first thing that catches your attention on their website is the lack of any kind of phone number. 

Click “support” then click “contact us” and here is what you get:

Looking to Contact Brother?

Go to the Support Page for your model.

Enter your model number in search box below.

There you’ll find help articles, resources, and how to contact Brother for your model.

How’s that for customer support?  It is a DIY operation.

No matter how hard you search, you cannot find a phone number to get help. 

If you type “Brother USA customer support phone number” in your browser, the first four results are all official Brother links that contain no phone numbers.

However, the fifth link does give the phone number and that’s because the source is “pissed consumer.”  Thank you, PC.

Why is Brother so stubbornly insistent on not giving out their phone number?  Their blatant DO NOT CALL policy reveals that they perceive customers as irrelevant and bothersome.

After finally calling Brother and waiting nearly 15 minutes, a representative came on the phone.  Once I explained my problem, he put me through a series of steps, it seemed like two dozen, to troubleshoot the problem.

Then he said that Brother does not have drivers compatible with the Apple operating system we were using.  Not only that, he didn’t know if they would ever have compatible drivers.   

End of call.  End of an hour of my life.

“How odd,” I thought to myself.  You mean this large company made the intentional though irrational business decision to write off all Apple users in not ensuring their printers work with Macs? 

I reached out to an independent Apple dealer who found literature on the Brother website that proved the Brother employee wrong.  The problem was with my older printer; newer ones did have the compatible driver.

I decided not to buy Brother and researched for the best non-Brother printer to buy, and guess what?  Brother was highly rated yet again.  I really wanted to go with a different company due to the poor customer service.

Despite my better judgment, I bought another Brother.  How could I go against all the positive reviews? 

For the first few days, the new printer worked fine.  Then out of nowhere it didn’t. The only way it would print was by turning the machine off and on again. Well, that was unacceptable.

Before calling the company yet again, I examined their online “help” documents, carefully following each “press this” and “type this.”  Nothing worked.

I was forced to contact Brother back.  I’ll skip the suspense.  After 90 minutes of the representative instructing me to do the same exact steps I had done on my own, nothing changed.

This time I searched for help online published by Brother users which provided me the most helpful information including a possible solution:  I needed to change the sleep mode.

I followed the instructions, changed the default setting of one minute to 50 minutes, and checked to see that the change was accepted. 

Yet the printer still didn’t print.  When I turned it off and on again, I looked at the sleep time and it had reverted back to one minute.

I braced myself for my one more phone call from hell.  Only this time I had a simple question:  how do you turn off the sleep mode on the printer? 

Instead of answering my question, the representative kept putting me on hold evidently unsure on how to go off script.   When she came back, she explained to me how we have to go through all the steps that I now had memorized before answering my questions. 

That’s when I shook myself out of sleep mode.   I knew this was a waste of time so I said “goodbye” and hung up.

Do you know how maddening it is to have a customer service representative not provide service to me, a customer?

Since I ordered the printer from out of town (no, not Amazon), I had to re-package it in its original box and packing material (which I had saved) and drove it to the local FedEx office.

The printer was slightly heavy, but heavier was the aggravation.  Once I dropped it off, a huge boulder was lifted off my back and life seemed good again.

I couldn’t wait to delete all Brother-related files from my computer.  Tomorrow, my HP printer will arrive.   And I already tested their customer service center.  Within a few minutes I had a live person on the phone.  Oh, and HP’s phone number is prominently on their home page at the very top, center location, in red.  Now that’s service!

A Rose Has Only So Many Petals

With another Mother’s Day upon us, it is natural to think about all the mothers you know in your life. 

Obviously, the one and only mother who brought you into this world.  Then there is your wife who is the mother of your children.  Your sister who is the mother of your nephews and nieces.  Your grandmother who is the mother of your mother.  And your mother-in-law who is like a mother.

I want to focus on my mother-in-law who is going through a challenging stretch in her 75th year of life.

Up until a few months ago, she began slowing down.  It began with her no longer driving her car, voluntarily losing some independence.

Then she began needing to use a cane to balance herself.

More recently, she broke her wrist and had trouble with a nerve disorder in her legs causing her unable to move her own weight which led to falls and ambulance trips to emergency rooms.

With each decline in mobility comes the slap in the face reality that this person, the matriarch of my wife’s family, the dynamic personality that’s the life of the party, is facing mortality.

As of this writing, she is slowly regaining her strength in a rehabilitative center.  But she still can’t walk under her own power even with a walker.

For weeks our family has researched and visited Mom’s future living conditions.  I have taken a crash course on the variety of senior care living options available:  assisted-living, board and care, skilled nursing, nursing home, continuing care retirement communities, and nursing care at home.

A family’s biggest hurdle is accepting the harsh reality that whatever the option chosen, paying for it will vacuum up a lifetime of financial equity in a matter of a few years.

After settling on assisted-living as the best fit for her, my wife and I visited Mom armed with the glossy brochures of smiling, active seniors (the type who really don’t live in these places), and pep talks that the next place where she lives won’t be the last place where she will live. 

Once our sales pitch was over (feeling like surrogate representatives of these facilities),

Mom decided that she didn’t want to go to such places.  She wants to try to live with her sister who may or may not be capable of taking care of her needs.

Despite our reservations, we can’t force her into an assisted-living facility.  She has to want to do it under her own power for while her body is failing her, her mind remains solid.

Ultimately, the decision rests with her even if it may not be the best decision.  Part of honoring a mother on Mother’ Day beyond the material items such as flowers, balloons and Hallmark greetings is honoring her wishes. 

And who knows how many more Mother’s Days there will be with her?  A rose has only so many petals.

Down Magnolia Park Memory Lane

When watching a movie or TV show, it’s always fun to spot a location that you recognize especially if it’s from your hometown.

The other night I saw “Pushover” from 1954 starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak in her debut.  It is a film noir about a cop who falls in love with a gangster’s girlfriend and ends up turning crooked. 

Ten years earlier MacMurray starred with Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s classic noir “Double Indemnity.”   “Pushover” is a not in the same league though it is worth seeing especially for those who knew Burbank decades ago.

Not only did the crew film along the heart of Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank, a corridor known as Magnolia Park, but the whole climatic scene of the picture takes place there.

There is a bountiful of moments worth freeze-framing to gloss over the details, like opening up an old photo album of a place you haven’t seen in years.

In the very first scene of the film, the Magnolia movie theatre (4403 Magnolia) is prominently featured at night with its ornate marquee and box office cubicle.   It has been seen in other movies such as 1975’s “Night Moves.”  But seeing the flashing neon in glorious black and white brought back many memories to me. 

While not as large as the old California theatre a mile east down the road which had a balcony, I saw many movies at the Magnolia, one of the last being “The Poseidon Adventure.”  For the longest time, there was a hanging banner from the marquee about its air conditioning.  It was one of the few buildings I went in as a child which felt cool during the hot summer time.

Later, MacMurray and Novak are seen in separate cars driving down Magnolia Blvd.  Prominently shown are the stores on the south end of Magnolia between Hollywood Way to the west and Cordova to the east:  McCoy’s Shoes, Tots to Ten, Newberry’s Five and Dime.

The Magnolia location is featured again in the film’s climax between police and now mass murderer MacMurray where characters are seen creeping through an arcade of offices that remains unchanged to this day.  I recall as a child how strangely exotic that open corridor was cutting straight through from the sidewalk on Magnolia to the alley in the back, landscaped with thickly leafed plants.  Rocky’s Barber Shop where I had my hair cut during the 1960’s was on Magnolia near the opening to the arcade.

Then the big shootout happens on Cordova.  The shops seen earlier are in clear display again in the background.  These are the stores where my family shopped at in my childhood, where we bought shoes, clothes, papers and Halloween costumes.

What makes it especially thrilling is that the scene is shot at night with the neon signs on, and unlike the normal practice of covering up or changing the names on storefronts, here the filmmakers left the original names in place.

I felt compelled to drive down to that area to photograph that area and see if any remnants of the past still exist.

Well, that arcade area has not changed much.  The vegetation isn’t as lush, and some reconfiguration of the pathway may have taken place.  But you can still cut through from the street to alley.

It was exciting to see, however, that the Tots to Ten store has remained very much the same with its old-fashioned large windows and its outside frame, still showing 3606 as its address.

I researched a 1952 Burbank telephone directory on to discover its previous business name was Western Toy & Baby Shop.

To the east was McCoy’s Shoes at 3604 and on the corner was Evan’s Stationary at 3600.  I’m not sure why but that was the only store whose name was covered up through one can make out the faint name through the material used to mask it.

To the west of Tots to Ten is Newberry’s (3612) and next to that a business I don’t recollect called Rick’s Hardware (3614).

All the way at the southeast corner of Hollywood Way and Magnolia was the crown jewel:  Albin’s Drug Store (3620) where Porto’s Bakery is today.

Albin’s was a magical place.  They even had Albin’s toys which was one block north on Hollywood Way (now the Train Shack).

When you walking into Albin’s, the cosmetics and perfume counter was in the front on the right.  The film department was on the left where we had many photos and 8mm home movies developed.  But in the back of the store was a genuine soda fountain.  In my research I discovered that it had a separate name (at least in 1952):  Harold Webb restaurant.

The most curious business shown, however, is an ice cream store at the northeast corner of the intersection called Currie’s (3521).  This is a place I don’t remember. 

I researched Currie’s to discover that it was a local chain in Southern California that “dished up mile high cones, cherry phosphates, and other cool confections from the 1930s through the late 1960s” a quote along with several photos that I found from Flashbak:

Based on the photos, Currie’s used the food architecture of the period by having oversized cones and shakes displayed outside its storefronts.

If it wasn’t for the location scouts who were just doing their job finding backgrounds to rear project during interior car scenes or for quick exterior shots, those of us who actually lived in that area at the time would have no filmed record of where we grew up.

To find this film with these scenes of where I grew up transported me.  I obsessed re-watching the scenes, freezing them bit by bit, comparing addresses and storefronts to those listed in the 1952 telephone directory.  It was if I was in a time machine.  In another way, it was validating my existence.

Wouldn’t it be magical if a genie could grant my wish to have one 24-hour day to step back into time to walk down Magnolia, enter Albin’s Drugstore and sit at the soda fountain in the back and drink a chocolate milkshake out of a silver goblet with my parents and siblings?

Living to See Another Birthday

April Fool’s Day.

I was born 63 years ago this morning at 8:02.

No foolin’.

It’s hard to believe I am 63.

I’m getting to the point where when I take a survey that asks you to choose your age from different age groups such as 48-64 and 65 and up, I’m almost at the next to the last selection.  That’s depressing.

The older you get, you truer it is how fast life flies by.

I feel that if I could live another 63 years, it still wouldn’t be enough time.

The truth of the matter is, I’d be lucky to be still living in 20 years, and 20 years seems like a blink in an eye.

The two things people have no control over during their lifetime:  being born and dying.  If you are human, both will happen to you.  Being born is a blessing.  Having limited time is a curse.

As I approach one year of retirement, I realize how important work is for people for this reason:  it is a major distraction from the inevitable end to all of our stories.

Most of my life I have obsessed about death.  Unlike most people, the fantasy that I would live forever was blown up when at age 11 I saw my grandmother dead in a coffin.   Now 52 years later, I still can’t get that image out of my mind.  It forever changed my view of the universe.

While I am a strong believer in eating well and exercising often, the truth of the matter is, good lifestyle habits may ward off certain diseases, but nothing that you do will prevent death.

I wish I didn’t know this at such an early age, but that cruel awareness has motivated me that, as the saying goes, tomorrow is never promised.

There is a famous children’s prayer to be recited before going to sleep each night:

            Now I lay me down to sleep,

            I pray the Lord my Soul to keep;

            If I should die before I wake,

            I pray the Lord my Soul to take.

The phrase “if I should die before I wake” has always haunted me.  What happens if you go to bed one night, and you never wake up again?

I think it is one reason why I often wake up early in the morning when it is still dark as if to resist never waking up again.

Well, I woke up today which is why you are reading what I wrote.  For me, having an awareness that I will die one day is not depressing; it is more a powerless feeling, not sad really.  Just the way of all living things.

So, I will go out for breakfast for my birthday, I’ll eat some cake, I’ll talk to friends and family.  And, one day at a time, appreciate a gift too many of us take for granted.

March 13, 2020 – The Day America’s Classrooms Stood Still

Last year at this time, I was still teaching in a classroom with my students.  An ordinary event that only now a year later seems extraordinary.

I marvel at how that final week of me as a classroom teacher after 31 years transpired.

I find it fascinating how the last day of real school was a Friday the 13th.  If you wrote that for a movie, it would seem cliched.

Where I worked, it was the last day of the third quarter, a shortened day ending around 12:30 p.m., right before the start of a one-week spring break vacation.

For the past couple of days, rumors were flying that schools would stay closed an additional week or two, and that schools would not resume until early April.

Two unusual events happened to me during that last week.

On Tuesday, March 10, I had two guest speakers from Cal State Northridge give a one-hour presentation to my 10th grade English students about an upcoming concert that some of them were going to see.  “Violins of Hope” was a traveling exhibit from Israel which was coming to the West Coast for the first time.  Dozens of violins saved from the Holocaust and restored by a master violinmaker would be on display and, more amazingly, played in live concerts around the Los Angeles region.

One of the guest speakers was a violinist who played during the presentation on one of those rescued violins.  It was quite an emotional moment for my students and I.

What made the proceedings surreal was that a city official was invited to watch the mini-concert, and as he came close to me to shake my hand, I temporarily hesitated thinking about the news reports flooding the airwaves about the importance not to shake people’s hands since this new coronavirus spreads through contact.  Yet, shake his hand I did, more focused on not embarrassing him than my own health concerns.  As soon as I could, I sterilized that hand yet still worried throughout the day that I may have caught Covid.

Two days later, March 12, Glendale Unified held its last official school event, the Scholastic Bowl, where five-member teams from all four high schools compete in a game show-like setting on stage in a school auditorium answering questions from an array of academic categories.

I was the coach of Hoover’s team and, like another Hollywood moment, my students won the competition to cap off my 12-year run as coach—what a send-off.

However, a pall was over the two-hour proceedings because the district had announced that no one would be allowed to watch the Bowl in person due to virus concerns.  Only the parents of the students were in attendance to add their sparse applause to the cavernous auditorium.

Less than 16 hours, “have a nice spring break” would be the final words I would ever say to students in my classroom.

Now that is not a Hollywood ending to a 31-year career.  But who knew what was to transpire?

Oh, the Books You Won’t Read!

When people cry out against a film or book’s contents, often those critics never saw the film or read the book.

So, upon hearing the news on March 2 that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, who controls the publication of Ted Geisel’s (his real name) books, would no longer print six of his titles due to racist images, the first thing I did was reserve them at my local library so I could see for myself the controversial drawings.

Let’s take a look at all six books in order of publication date and the questionable material.

And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937)

There is a drawing of “a Chinese boy who eats with sticks.”  Don’t some Chinese use chopsticks?

One image not labeled as offensive is a Rajah who is pulling a wagon of seven musicians, all white.  Does that indicate that the white men are enslaved by the Rajah?  I guess that’s okay.

What makes this book’s demise worse than the others is that it was Dr. Seuss’s first book.

McElligot’s Pool (1947)

I had to research the offensive image since I couldn’t find one.  It turns out that on the page which reads “Eskimo Fish from beyond Hudson Bay” the fish appear to have oval not round eyes.

If I Ran the Zoo (1950)

This is the only book on the list that I would agree has two troubling racist drawings:  one of Africans and another of Asians.

Scramble Eggs Super! (1953)

An Arab-looking man in a turban.  Don’t some Arabs wear head coverings?

On Beyond Zebra! (1955)

An Arab-looking man sitting on a camel.  Don’t some Arabs sit on camels?

The Cat’s Quizzer (1976)

On page 11, a question asks, “How old do you have to be to be a Japanese?”  Answer on p 58: “All Japanese are Japanese the minute they are born.”   What’s wrong with this?

On page 28, “Do the Japanese eat with pogo sticks or joss sticks?”  Answer on p. 58: “Pogo sticks they jump on.  Joss sticks they burn.  They eat with chop sticks.”

Seuss does draw the Asian characters with narrower eyes than Caucasian’s.  So, what should a cartoonist do?  Draw Asians with Caucasian-like round eyes?

By the way, in none of these images are the characters portrayed as villains.

And who is picking up on this so-called offensive material?  The kids?   You mean, a child is going to ask his parent, “Mommy, why does this man eat with chopsticks?”  And if this ever did happen, the parent has a teachable moment that is now never going to be there because that book from 1937 with the one image will no longer be there.

Also, why aren’t those who are supercritical of Dr. Seuss books concerned about the non-stop gutter language and other images that permeates all media these days?  Surely, that is causing more damage to young people.  Think of how many parents don’t monitor their children in their own homes using cell phones and laptops and the content that they are absorbing.

Another criticism of Dr. Seuss is that he mainly drew white people thus perpetuating white supremacy.  First of all, these are not history books but fun, light-hearted children’s books. All the characters are drawn in fantastical ways not meant to resemble photographs.

Second, Dr. Seuss was white so it makes sense that most of the humans in his books are white.  How does make him a racist?   If the illustrator was black and drew only black characters, would that artist also be viewed as a racist?

Seuss drew mainly men with very few women. Does that mean Dr. Seuss was a sexist?

The absence of certain sexes and races does not denote a sexist and racist person.  Like any good writer, he wrote based on his experience.

 What the publisher should have done is followed the lead of companies like Warner Brothers who have disclaimers on DVDs of old cartoons, some of which were propaganda during World War II, but allow the uncensored material to be seen in its original form.

Look, we all can do better when it comes to treating all people with respect and dignity.  But for critics to seek out in all the nooks and crannies every dot of possible insensitivity and to obliterate the book, the movie, the statue, such action is doing much more harm than the image itself for those who are “woke” are determining what future generations will know about the past.

And then do you know what you are left with?  Nothing.  No history of how people lived in a certain time period, or insight as to what people were dealing with in that moment.

What is preventing future generations from destroying the concentration camps in Europe so that the German people don’t feel victimized?

Sounds farfetched?  Not when Dr. Seuss books are being canceled.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises has caused more damage to Geisel’s reputation than these few images ever did.  Plus, they are benefitting financially at the expense of his reputation since once people heard about the banned books, they became hard to find items. 

What the publisher should do is collect all the money that is pouring in for these six titles and donate it to groups promoting tolerance such as the Anti-Defamation League. 

But I wouldn’t hold your breath of this ever happening.  It turns out that Dr. Seuss earns the most money of any deceased celebrity except for Michael Jackson; according to Forbes, in 2020 he earned $33 million, with more coming in for 2021, I’m sure.

Coke Should Air 50-Year-Old Ad for Super Bowl

“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

Remember that song?  Remember that commercial?

You would have to be of a certain older age to answer yes to those questions.

The most famous Coca-Cola ad of all time was the 1971 “hilltop” spot with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” 

For those too young, go find it on YouTube.  You’ll see people of all nationalities coming together on top of a hill to sing the praises of the soda along with a simple message of people around the world getting along with one another despite our differences.

When Coca-Cola first aired it in 1971, I was at the cusp of adolescence.  Every time I saw it on TV, I rolled my eyes thinking to myself, “How corny and hokey.” 

Now looking at it these days in my advanced years, I think, “Coke should air that again.” Sometimes hokey is good.  Sometimes corny is what we need.  And we need something right now in this country to remind us that no matter our background, we are all people.  We are all human.

Considering the horrible times in which we are living, from the pandemic to political divisions, what our country could use right now is this iconic commercial to bring people back together. 

I am asking the Coca-Cola Company to resurrect the original ad and air it on Super Bowl Sunday.  What better time to rerun it than its 50-year anniversary in 2021?

We have a vaccine for Covid.  Now we need another antidote to fix our other issues.

Coke did a reunion commercial 19 years later in 1990 which included original actors with some of their children.

With the actual anniversary coming in July, there is plenty of time to make a new 50th anniversary edition.  How special it would be to bring back some of those actors again this time with their grandchildren.

But don’t stop there.  Recruit famous Republican and Democratic politicians coming together on Capitol Hill, in front of the U.S. Capitol building.  Model for Americans how to behave with each other no matter whether we mask or don’t mask.  Trump or Biden.  CNN or Fox.  America needs a reset.  Now.

Cancel my Subscription to 2021

Lately I have begun watching old episodes of a very popular TV series that aired from 1952 to 1961:  This is Your Life.  In an era of live television, this was the show to watch because right at the beginning producer/host Ralph Edwards surprised the person whose life was to be told and no one could be sure how that person would react. 

“This is Your Life” (“TYL”) and “Candid Camera” were television’s earliest reality TV shows in capturing live events of people being surprised.

I am enthralled with everything about “TYL.”  From the sincerity of Edwards to the amazing stories of its honorees.   From a sociology standpoint, it is also curious to observe how people used to interact with one another unscripted.  As a former school mate or early mentor would appear on stage to talk about the honoree, the language used and the enthusiasm of the handshake or hug seem so remote from our society today—polite, respectful, truthful.

Even the audience is well-mannered and well-dressed.

While I was but a baby when “TYL” went off the air in its first run (years later a revamped version aired that was not live or as captivating), I recall watching reruns years ago.

But recently I began watching them again on YouTube.  I was trying to figure out why was I doing this?  Is this a sign that my retirement is failing? 

And then on Jan. 6 it hit me.  Watching another live TV event, this time an angry mob rioting the U.S. Capitol Building, the one government building that represents democracy throughout the world, the one that the 9/11 terrorists wanted to destroy with the plane where passengers rushed the perpetrators sending it crashing in a field in Pennsylvania, I was shaken.  Just what the hell has happened to our country?

In absorbing myself in the 1950’s, I’m trying to pretend that I am living in another time period.  Any time period other than now.

Yes, the 1950’s had its own scary issues, from segregation to the threat of nuclear war.  But human qualities like decency and consideration for others were mainstays for most people. 

That hasn’t been true for a while now.

Each morning I take a walk around my neighborhood with my mask on.  On average, I pass about a dozen people, some walking a dog, a few jogging.  Maybe three of them have on a mask.

This is the way it was months ago before the most recent surge that began in mid-December, and nearly 4 weeks later, nothing has changed even though the Los Angeles area is displayed on maps in a deep fireman red coloring to denote high cases of COVID-19.

I also observe drivers and bicyclists not obeying speed laws or stop signs.  I walk by 14 four-way stop intersections on my route and rarely see a driver make even a California stop.  Most slow down a little then accelerate through.  A few drivers blow right through them as if they had a green light.  God forbid a parent with a stroller or a child on a bike is not in their pathway for it would result in severe injury or death.

People no longer feel legally or even morally obligated to stop at a stop sign or wear a small mask over the lower half to protect fellow human beings.

Every day I think about this when I am supposed to be focused on enhancing my mental and physical health.

In one hour I see a microcosm of selfish human behavior that when inflamed to a high temperature erupts into domestic terrorism.

Why do I seem to be in the minority of people who feel an obligation to do the right thing?

It’s almost as if many people were not brought up right.   They lack strong parenting that should have established a foundation of knowing right from wrong, a foundation of values and morals.  They lack a Golden Rule education of consideration for others, respecting those unlike themselves.  People used to learn how to be decent from their parents or their religious upbringing; now, many are brought up on social media.

Going back to that driver who purposely chooses not to obey a stop sign.  Why does he misbehave?   He feels the chances of a police officer catching him breaking the law is miniscule.  But what about the law of morality?  There is no conscience in this person, no little voice begging them to do the right thing.  Whether you believe in a heaven or hell, or some kind of after-life reckoning, for those who are self-absorbed without being brought up correctly, our society will continue to devolve.

Too many bad people get away with bad behavior.  A society without consequences is no longer a society.  Chaos takes over.

Decency must come from within each one of us.  You can’t legislate a law about it.

Without decency we are no longer human, just animals like the ones who stormed the Capitol.

Today, Americans can hardly come together about anything, even when it comes to a global health crisis.  But once they stop accepting the definition of what it means to be an American, the United States will no longer survive.

Being an American means respecting others, believing in equality for all.  It also means welcoming immigrants for that is the story of America.

When I grew up, I believed in the American story because it was my parents’ and grandparents’ American story.   They came to the United States not to get better jobs but to not be killed in their homelands.

Millions of Americans no longer believe in this story anymore.  Immigrants are viewed as ugly foreigners.  Forget the adage of loving thy neighbor.

Look at what President Kennedy said at his inauguration 60 years ago, “Ask now what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Citizens believed in that sentiment once.  Today, the reverse is true.

One of the few benefits of being my age is knowing that not that far in the future, I will die and won’t witness more decline in civilization.

I thank God that I had loving parents who brought me and my siblings up the right way.  I’m thankful that I am the way I am and wish more people were decent.

I will try to remind myself of the better parts of people each day despite seeing firsthand evidence to the contrary so that their indecency doesn’t erode mine.

Hope of 2021, One Person at a Time

Hope springs eternal—so goes the cliché—but truer than ever as we finally reach the finish line of 2020.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2021.  The Covid-19 vaccines will be widely available.   It seems that by the time June arrives, we should have a better idea of how much of the pandemic is behind us.  It may seem like a long stretch, but we have already survived 9 and a half months of dealing with this contagious virus; another 5 and a half months is doable.

Let’s hope that many of those who lost jobs will return to full employment.

Let’s hope that restaurants will soon reopen, at least outside, as well as gyms and other businesses.  Could people return to sports and concert venues by the end of the year?

Think about how special next holiday season will be to celebrate with families in person.

One thing the pandemic shutdown has done is given each one of us the time to look inside ourselves and see what type of people we are.   Some can see more gracious and generous spirits, while others may have doubts on their ability to show selfless concern for their neighbors.  Unfortunately, it is during trying times when both the best and worst qualities in humans are on display.

I highly recommend the new Pixar film “Soul.”  Inadvertently, it speaks to the times in which we are living.  Its theme revolves around the meaning and purpose of life, quite ambitious for a cartoon.  Kids won’t get it, but adults will.  Maybe some will even learn from its moral.

A new year always offers people the possibilities of improving themselves.  Losing weight and exercising more are typical resolutions made.   More importantly would be for each of us to wake up each day and think how we can make not just us but others around us better in our families and our communities.  

There was a time back in the 1960’s when songs like “Let There Be Peace on Earth” were sung on TV variety shows often by a children’s choir composed of all ethnicities.  When I was younger and heard that song, I dismissed it as pollyannish and contrived.  Now that I am much older, the song resonates as a simple yet doable anecdote to the divisiveness in our country which is a worse contagion than the coronavirus.

If there were more people doing as the song says that for there to be peace “let it begin with me,” then as a nation we would be pointed in a brighter direction.  Instead of waiting for others to be nicer and kinder, how about each of us polishing those human traits?  Corny?  Perhaps.  But what a wonderful world if those things became contagious.