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It’s Not Nice To Fool a Crabby Old Lady

In the normal course of events, Crabby Old Lady pays her bills each month without any difficulty. The statements arrive, she determines their correctness (which is so about 99 percent of the time) and all is well. Prices sometimes increase and although that is never a welcome event, they are not entirely unreasonable and are to be expected.

In the past couple of weeks, however, Crabby has had three disturbing encounters with business organizations to whom she regularly pays money. Each involved an unexpected price hike of dubious genesis leading Crabby, who has little trust in any organization larger than two people anyway, to question their integrity.

The local electric and gas utility has a Level Payment program by which customers are billed the same amount each month, calculated on the previous year’s usage, so that in periods of heavy use, the bill does not double or triple. Upon annual renewal of the program this month, Crabby’s Level Payment increased by 42 percent and in no way did she use that much more electricity in the past year. She has the bills to prove it.

The utility, however, using some archaic mathematical principle unknown since before the invention of the zero, insisted otherwise and refused to budge on the new payment amount. Since Crabby, in her old age, has lost all patience with customer service representatives and the time required to inch her way up the hierarchy to someone who doesn’t use a pre-written script to converse on the telephone, she reverted to pay-as-you-go.

Because the electric heat in Crabby’s apartment can in no way counter the frigid temperatures of winter below about 40 degrees, she long ago installed a wood-burning stove in the fireplace. It has a glass front to provide a cozy ambience in addition to its astonishing efficiency. Even when the house has been allowed to get cold, within 90 minutes of starting a fire, every room of the apartment is warm and toasty.

Crabby has been buying her firewood (at prices that cause heart palpitations in her rural friends) from the same firm across the East River in Long Island City for a dozen years. When she telephoned to order her first face cord this year, she was informed that the new owners had increased the price by 37 percent. Crabby was livid. You do not want to be on the other end of the telephone when Crabby is possessed by the furies and neither did the wood company’s sales representative.

The owner tried to tell Crabby that her previous sales contact, no longer with the company, had for reasons unknown, not passed on increases that had been instituted through the past several years. Now that’s a new excuse to Crabby - and in any event, he said, his prices are competitive and it is no concern of his that she had been a long-term customer.

Crabby dealt with the company in the same manner she handled the utility, refusing to go along and after a half dozen telephone calls, found another purveyor of firewood, Dmitri’s, whose price closely matches what she has been paying.

Proving again that all bad things come in threes, Crabby received a delinquency notice from a magazine to which she had newly subscribed. She owed, the form letter announced, 142 percent more than she had already sent.

Now, Crabby has been reading and paying bills for 46 years with few, if any, misunderstandings and she doubts she misread the bill. And she knows she would not have subscribed at that price. Once again, she had no taste for an extended discussion that would undoubtedly involve several customer service representatives and too much time on hold. She canceled the subscription.

Had Crabby gone along with each of these increases, it would have taken an additional $1,000 or so out of her pocket in the coming year. Due to her condition of unemployment, Crabby is not currently on even a fixed income – she’s on a negative income and that amount is not acceptable.

Some years ago, there was a television commercial for a brand of margarine in which the tagline was, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It’s not nice to fool a Crabby Old Lady either, and each of these increases has a whiff of shadiness about it, leaving Crabby with a sense of having barely avoided a small swindle.

Crabby wonders when ordinary dealings in service to maintenance of life became adversarial propositions requiring the customer to be ever alert in even the smallest transaction.


Missing the Marketing Mark For Older Folks

For many years, it was part of my job to be up to date on just about everything: politics, news, music, publishing, fashion, health and medicine, film, theater, television, culture in general. I was particularly suited to it. For an information junkie, it is heaven on earth to arrive at one’s office in the morning to a stack of ten newspapers, all the weekly magazines including the tabloids, many of the monthlies in addition to books, music and the latest press releases on all those topics and more.

Clip files on hundreds of subjects were my life and there was little anyone could bring up at a dinner party discussion about which I didn’t have at least enough knowledge to ask reasonably intelligent questions.

Recently, an announcement about a survey of people over 50 arrived in my inbox from The Boomer Project. In an effort to sell the entire report, the email quoted the answers to four of the survey questions:

“Compared to ten years ago, would you say you are more likely or less likely to keep up with the very latest…

  • Technology: 65 percent = more likely; 5 percent = less likely
  • Pop Culture: 4 percent = more likely; 62 percent = less likely
  • Fashion: 9 percent = more likely; 40 percent = less likely
  • Music: 17 percent = more likely; 39 percent = less likely”

The founder and president of The Boomer Project, Matt Thornhill, concludes that boomers are therefore “plugged in but tuned out.” This is, as with most surveys, simplistic and will mislead marketers – for whom the survey is intended – to avoid targeting their messages on music, fashion and pop culture to the over-50 crowd.

Instead, they should think harder about the reasons for those survey answers because, contrary to conventional wisdom, boomers and their elders don’t drop out of the culture just because they’ve put on a few years – though they may ignore fashion because they’ve put on a few pounds.

It is all but impossible to find attractive women’s clothing for bodies older than about age 25. Our waists now measure not much less than our hips, but where are well-designed dresses that take this into account? Where are non-dowdy blouses meant to be worn outside a skirt? Necklines that cover the new crepiness creeping in at the bottom of my neck? And why do designers think clothes made to fit aging bodies should be made of what, 50 years ago, was called a flour-sack print?

Although slavery to the latest three-week fashion fad is a foolishness that has passed me by, I like to be well dressed as much as any 20-something, and I’d pay a lot more attention to fashion (and more money) if magazines ever showed even a single photograph of clothing made for real women.

Up until about 20 years ago, the public learned about new music from the radio. There were many choices, depending on taste, among rock-and-roll, rhythm-and-blues, pop, classical, folk, jazz and other genre stations and in addition to the top 20, individual disc jockeys played their own favorites. There was much new – and old – music, easily available to hear, to catch one’s interest.

Then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deregulated media ownership and now a handful of corporations run most of radio. Disc jockeys have all but disappeared and you can hear the same playlist (of no more than 20 tunes) in the same order in any of two or three dozen cities on the same day. No individualization.

So these days, I am hard-pressed to find out about new CDs from artists I’ve enjoyed for years, and my younger friends who know my tastes tell me there is a lot of good, new music I would enjoy too, but I’ll be damned if I can find it on the radio. Before marketers dismiss us older folks from the music-listening population, they might want to consider how they are marketing their products.

As to the only four percent of boomers who keep up with pop culture, that number would be much higher if the question had not been as poorly crafted as that exit poll question about “moral values” in our recent presidential election. What is pop(ular) culture, in its broadest sense, but everything around us – television, movies, music, technology, fashion, auto design, art, newspapers, books, magazines, celebrities, even the latest trends in gardening, new home styles and furniture design.

Surely The Boomer Project did not mean to ask the over-50 crowd if they follow hip-hop music, bling-bling and baggy pants, but that is the currently accepted notion of the phrase pop culture so, of course, most boomers answered “less likely.”

The Boomer Project defines itself as a group of experts who specialize in advising their clients how to market to boomers older than 50. They won’t get far until they understand that age has not dimmed our interests.

Older folks aren’t tuned out. We just have different needs and requirements in addition to a lifetime spent developing taste, judgment and discernment in purchasing choices the hip-hop generation has not yet had time to develop.

I’d spend more money than I do if I could find products that suit me at this age, and I wish those “experts” would hurry up and get it right.


Mommy and Ronni

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MommyRonni1946

[1946] Throughout the World War II, Mommy promised that when Daddy came home, I could have a little sister. She kept her promise, though it turned out to be a brother.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
addadada @ 2003-08-19 said:
These days that can all be fixed with a little surgery...

Michale @ 2003-08-20 said:
LOL


In the Spirit of Thanksgiving...

When this blog was being developed, it was decided that politics, except as it relates to aging, would be ignored here. It’s a good rule that Crabby Old Lady follows – um, religiously. But today, Crabby woke with a news story from yesterday still stuck in her craw. And so…

On World News Tonight with Peter Jennings last evening (23 November, ABC-TV), there was a report about how some evangelicals believe it is they who pushed George Bush over the top to win the election and who now say it’s payback time, that President Bush owes them. They are demanding that the president, among other things, outlaw abortion and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold Biblical law – evangelical Biblical law.

A man who is minister at one of those huge, protestant churches with thousands of parishioners and who broadcasts services to tens of thousands more watching on television told the reporter that God’s law is above secular law. A woman, identified as a member of the church, said on camera that god wanted Mr. Bush elected and that God intervened in the election to make it so.

Crabby Old Lady was shocked to hear the minister say further that Bush’s election shows God is giving the United the States one more chance to mend its ways, and when asked about those citizens who adhere to other religions, he dismissed them all with one word: “Repent” or they will - to his satisfaction - burn in hell. This intolerant, self-righteous, little man, who shamelessly states he knows what God wants, would have the president remake the United States in the image of his particular religion.

There is a word for people like him and his followers; they are called jihadists, and they behead people who refuse to follow their brand of religion.

The United States was founded by people who risked their lives crossing a vast ocean in tiny, little boats to escape religious intolerance and persecution. Separation of church and state is written into our founding documents and this is among the blessings we traditionally celebrate on our annual Thanksgiving.

Crabby Old Lady, who is in a very bad mood this morning, fervently hopes those who would shove their pea-brain intolerance in the name of their God into law will have their turkey rot before their eyes tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day.


Pure Land Mountain

Cowtown Pattie at Texas Trifles recently posted two songs of praise to the people behind the websites on her blogroll - you can find them here and here – reminding me that I have neglected, for several months, commentary on that ElderBloggers list over there on the left.

One of my enduring daily pleasures is Pure Land Mountain, the blog of one Robert Brady, an American ex-pat who has lived near Osaka in rural Japan for going on three decades. He writes eloquently of the difference that choice - to make his life in a culture so different from his birthplace – has made in him:

“Whenever I visit the country that's America now, I feel perhaps more a foreigner than I do in Japan; I am surprisingly surprised to be treated as an American, as though that state were still and fully native to me. When I'm in America, I wear shoes very gingerly indoors; I can't take a bath with the soap in the water; people look me right in the eye as they talk to me; and everyone speaks English, which can be unsettling.”

- American Issei at Pure Land Mountain

Sometimes he gives us, who live on the other side of the world, glimpses of Japanese culture we would be unlikely to discover on our own.

“It's probably well known by now that Japan is the empire of vending machines, vending just about anything that can be vended; there are whole stores that are nothing but vending machines.”

- Vending Machines in Japan at Pure Land Mountain

Don’t miss the link in that entry, nor this one of an entirely different sort: the most beautiful collection of bonsai I’ve ever seen.

Brady keeps what sounds like an extensive vegetable garden. He lives in close proximity to the land and nature and is capable of writing such hymns to its grace as this recent entry:

“[The buck] couldn’t really see me clearly in this light or tell what I was because of the wind so he might take it into his multi-tined head to assert his rights - he could leap over this hedge in a twinkling - and though I’d seen him several times at a distance I had no real idea of his character, so even though it isn’t exactly mating season and he owed me a lot of spinach, I decided it would be better to pursue the better part of valor…

”When I got up to the deck I looked and he was still there staring. I called Echo out to have a look and he stared at us a while, then turned and loped back into his vast golden palace. I figure you can’t really begrudge a guy like that a little spinach.”

- Golden Palace at Pure Land Mountain

As gentle as is his attitude toward the land, the opposite prevailed on his blog during the month or so leading up to the recent U.S. presidential election as he lobbied passionately against Mr. Bush almost entirely through other people’s words, linking to some of the most reasoned and intelligent partisan arguments online.

And he has a knack for discovering absurdities in official declarations as this one regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional food pyramid:

“I don’t know about you, but after living here in Japan for decades I don’t see how I could stomach up to 26 American-sized servings per day from the various US government-certified food groups…let alone find the time to actually sit down and consume over two dozen servings per day of meat, milk, cheese, fish, yogurt, eggs, nuts, bread, poultry, fruit, pasta, cereal and vegetables…”

- The Pyramid of Food at Pure Land Mountain

Brady writes little of personal background, but when he does, the history can be breathtaking:

“Remembered my own great grandmother, a tiny white-haired lady sitting in the sun on the porch with me at her feet when I was about 7 and she was 100, talking about before there were automobiles. She had been born before the Civil War, was sixteen when Lincoln was assassinated, lived through the two big 20th-century wars, heard of the A-bomb, and reaches all the way to me here today. How I wish I could talk to her now!”

- Time and Wishes at Pure Land Mountain

Brady’s interests range far and wide, but I frequently return to his nature posts. Here is another beauty from the earliest days of his blog:

“Heard first frog on Saturday night, singing from the paddy; what a welcome sound, after so long of only the silence of snow and the whispers and howls of air being spun into wind, with sometimes the silence nailed to a tree by the screech of a crow; out of the mud, out of the darkness, how that single tiny resurrected life gave life to the night, that slow and simple and rhythmic song evoking in me a strong echo of the feeling my long-ago forebears must have felt when at least once more the god of winter had released the sun, granting one more summer to the land.”

- First Frog at Pure Land Mountain

You are missing a lot if you don’t add Pure Land Mountain to your regular blog reads.


Whose Moral Values Are We Talking About?

During her hiatus from publishing this blog, Crabby Old Lady has had time to think about some of the fallout from our recent presidential election. Much of the public discussion following 2 November has centered on the 79 percent of Bush voters who said in exit polls that the most important issue of the election was “moral values.”

Since then, there has been a good deal of punditry expended over whether Bush voters were, in choosing that issue by such a large margin, denouncing gay marriage (particularly with the defeat of gay marriage initiatives in all eleven states where it appeared on the ballot) and promoting Christianity.

Crabby can’t bring herself to believe that the general electorate can hold such a narrow definition of moral values and she notes that with inclusion of the 18 percent of Kerry voters who identified the same issue in exit polls, about half the voters in the United States place moral values – however they define it – at the top of their list of concerns.

That makes it an issue of crucial importance in need of more serious national debate than a couple of weeks of post-election, partisan sniping. But, moral values covers a much wider array of behavior than private beliefs regarding sexual orientation and religion. There is such a thing as public moral values.

This came to mind when Crabby was perusing the headlines on the home page of nytimes.com on the evening of 20 November. She was shocked at the high number of stories in which public moral values, although entirely unmentioned in the copy, are in question.

Soaring Interest Compound Credit Card Pain for Millions
This concerns the recent, new practice of banks and credit card institutions to double, triple and even quadruple interest rates on balances no matter what the original agreement when the credit card was issued. Some rates are already as high as 25 percent and expected to climb. Where Crabby comes from this is called usury, but there are no federal or state laws to prevent it.

Turmoil Grips Elite School Over Money and Leaders
This story is about allegations that the rector and trustees of St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire have mismanaged finances, “failed to properly disclose certain costs and invested its endowment in a way that has driven up expenses.” The story also notes that the rector is paid an annual salary of $452,000. Clearly, Crabby’s teacher friends are working in the wrong schools.

Bill Clears Way For Government to Cut Back College Loans
This legislation will allow “the government to scale back college grants for hundreds of thousands of low-income students,” most of whose parents fall into the $35,000 to $40,000 a year income bracket. There are hardly any careers left in the U.S. that don’t require a college degree, and Crabby can't avoid thinking this might be a back-door method of increasing military recruitment.

Senators Want Boeing Deal Investigated
In this case, leaders of the Armed Services Committee are calling for additional investigation into whether Air Force Secretary James G. Roche in concert with others illegally favored Boeing in procurement of a $23.5 billion contract for aircraft-refueling tankers. Questionable bids again.

Negotiators Add Abortion Clause to Spending Bill
Knowing Congress is in a hurry to adjourn until next year, but must pass the spending bill before doing so, some Congress people tacked an anti-abortion clause onto the fiscal legislation. On an issue as divisive as abortion which deserves serious thought and discussion, this is an unconscionable, sneaky action by our elected officials.

A Firebrand on Drug Safety
Dr. David J. Graham of the Food and Drug Administration says that agency is "’incapable of protecting America’" against dangerous drugs. He lists five drugs, in addition to Vioxx, that need scrutiny and he is calling for a complete overhaul of the agency which he labels “irresponsible.” Although Dr. Graham is a respected scientist supported by many physicians, efforts have been made to silence him. With every citizen’s health at risk, Crabby wonders who benefits. Follow the money.

Filtering Priests’ Sins Through Two Prisms
This is a review of two plays that delve into the scandals of child abuse by priests that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church which still has not fully addressed the problem.

Transit Experts Say Savings Alone Won’t Bail Out Agency
They want to raise bus and subway fares again because the local government is fighting increased subsidies. But as the article notes, “transit experts say that no large system anywhere in the world gets by without heavy government subsidies, and New York's system is less subsidized than most.” It already costs a family of four $16 for a round-trip. Add the price of tickets, popcorn and soda and they are closing in on a hundred dollars for a simple afternoon at the movies. What family can afford that?

HUD Audits Housing Group in Newark
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating funds spent by the Newark Housing Authority for a 42-inch, plasma television, a $25,000 contract given to an organization run by the executive director’s daughter and a million dollar renovation of the headquarters at the same time 84 employees were laid off. Crabby thinks this is a story she has heard many times before.

Greenspan Sees No Rise Soon in Dollar
Fed chairman Alan Greenspan says the value of the U.S. dollar, which is in free-fall against the Euro, is at risk due to the American government’s ballooning foreign borrowing. That means there is likely to be inflation and increased interest rates in Crabby’s and your future, even though average salaries have increased by no more than one percent in recent years. But the U.S. House passed a new $388 billion spending measure anyway without cutting any expenses.

Ten stories on a single, online front page, every one of which has a moral values component. But did you notice that none is about individual, private-citizen transgression? No, each is about corporate or government officials, people charged with upholding their constituents’ well-being – financial or otherwise - transferring the cost of their greed and venality to Crabby Old Lady and you.

Could such cynical actions as these, Crabby asks, be the moral values 50 percent of voters are concerned about?


Great Aunt Edith, Mommy, Harry and Ronni

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016aemomharrymeedith1943

[1943] Harry was a long-time family friend, too old by World War II to be drafted. Sometime after the War, he stopped appearing at family gatherings and no one would tell me why. I missed him and the horsey-back rides he had given me. Years later, they told me he had been convicted of molesting a boy. I decided to remember him fondly anyway.

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Ronni in Her Crib

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Ronni 1942

[1942] Although the image quality is poor, this photo is worth having for the remarkably early memory it evokes: the taste of the varnish on the crib rail I undoubtedly chewed on while I was teething.

Without this photo, I would also not have the sense memory of what it felt like to haul myself upright by the crib rail, but pictures are not the only path to our memories. A piece of music, a poem, an aroma can trigger the memory of an event unconsidered for decades. A couple of years ago, I happened to see the Disney movie, Cinderella, for the first time since it was released in 1950. It brought back the entire day - my eighth birthday - that I don't suppose I'd thought about since it happened.

I'm not a beer drinker - years can go by between beers - and on the rare occasion I have one, it never fails to bring back the delight of a day spent waterskiing at a lake in northern California when, at age 14, my friend and I snuck beers from the cooler when our parents weren't looking. Perhaps that is what ruined me for beer: how can legal Heineken today ever match the pleasure of an icy, cold beer on a seering, hot day when it was forbidden.

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Great Grandma and Ronni

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[Christmas 1941] Mommy’s grandmother was so long-winded when she called every day, Mommy put Ronni on the telephone and the two – a toddler and an aged woman - happily chattered for hours. Little is known of Great Grandma Banta except that she took her family west by covered wagon on the Oregon Trail when she was a young mother.

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Daddy's Mother

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010hazelc1925

[circa 1925] When Ronni’s Daddy was 10 years old his mother, Hazel, sent him to visit her sister Edith in Portland, Oregon, for what she said was a summer holiday. Daddy didn't return to Chicago in the fall because his mother married a man, Darby, who was not interested in having a child around the house. Aunt Edith raised Daddy and he never saw his mother again.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
setya @ 2003-08-13 said:
Sad story - and that is quite the hat she on.

history @ 2003-08-13 said:
Sad, yes.


Daddy's Father

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009daddysdad

There are no photographs of Ronni’s paternal grandfather. He left the family when Daddy was a toddler. Daddy said he met his father once, for about ten minutes, when he was nine years old. On that day, his father gave him 25 cents to go out for a soda while he spoke privately with Daddy’s mother, and he was gone by the time Daddy returned. Daddy never saw nor heard from his father again.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
albumyolima @ 2003-08-16 said:
Oooh, what a sad story!


Vaccine Shortages and Drug Prices

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is presidential election day in the U.S. Please vote and when you do, remember what the GrannyVoters remind us: that policies set in place by the next president, his administration and Congress will have effects and repercussions well beyond the next four years.


In late August or early September, Crabby Old Lady saw a small item in the press somewhere that there might be a shortage of flu vaccine in the United States this year.

Crabby has taken a flu shot for the past 12 or 15 years except one year when, for reasons she no longer recalls, she didn’t get around to it. The flu got her that year and she was sick – sick in bed, fevered, aching, delirious and non-functional – for two entire weeks. It was an additional month before she felt fully healthy again. She has never missed another flu shot.

This year, with that tiny, little news item in mind, Crabby was at the door when it opened on the first morning the vaccine was available from the New York City Health Department. Others have not been so lucky as Crabby; the next day, the shortage was announced.

Since then, there have been continual reports of older folks in long lines in the hot sun with nothing more useful than hope that the vaccine will not have run out when their turn comes. Hospitals do not have enough vaccine for their patients. Several towns have held lotteries - think of it, lotteries for a proven medication that saves thousands of lives a year - for the few doses they have. And scalpers have been charging 10 and 20 times the going price. Crabby has one friend, HIV-positive, who cannot find a flu shot at any price after weeks of searching. He is terrified; if he gets the flu, he may die.

Now, according to a story by Gardiner Harris, it appears more than just flu vaccine is regularly in short supply:

“Each of these drugs, and dozens of others, are in shortage in the United States right now. On any given day, 50 to 80 drugs, many of them life-saving, may be difficult or impossible to find. Some patients die waiting for them, or because a frustrated doctor substituted another drug without having adequate training.

“The larger story behind the flu vaccine shortage is that drug supply disruptions in the United States have become routine.”
- The New York Times, 31 October 2004

In addition, drugs in general are so expensive in the United States that people – mostly older folks on fixed incomes – travel to Canada and, mentioned in the press to a lesser degree, Mexico to get their physician-prescribed medications.

“U.S. citizens regularly cross the border to buy discount prescription drugs at pharmacies in Mexican border towns, where they can save up to 60 percent on drugs ranging from antibiotics to Viagra.”
- money.cnn.com, 22 October 2004

If that is not bad enough, officials repeatedly appear on network and cable news broadcasts to warn against buying drugs in other countries because, they say, those drugs might not be safe. Somehow, Crabby believes, if U.S. citizens were dropping dead in droves from “foreign” drugs, we would know about it.

It is unconscionable that these shortages and high prices can happen in a country that touts itself as having the finest healthcare system in the world - a dubious statement when the United States is listed at number 48 in life expectancy at birth by the 2003 CIA World Fact Book.

How can all this be, you may ask? Crabby will explain: it happens when the manufacture and distribution of medicines are left to the free market.

But drugs and vaccines are not automobiles. They are not television sets, computers, shoes nor any other kind of consumer product. They are life-giving, life-preserving miracles without which we would still have killer diseases such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, small pox and measles, the fear of which Crabby can remember from her childhood. Other diseases that were deadly in her youth are now, if not yet preventable or curable, at least controllable - with drugs created by modern science. It is shameful than anyone in a country as rich as ours must go without needed medications or seek them in other countries.

Health is not a commodity and that is why, in other, more enlightened countries, governments do not allow the market to decide availability and price of medicines as though they were pork bellies.

Crabby Old Lady believes it would be an excellent legacy for future generations if older folks would make it a priority to lobby our representatives in the coming years for a saner, national health policy.


Proof of My Old Womanhood

category_bug_journal2.gif Please welcome, friends and fellow bloggers, the latest addition to my household:

Oliver 2004_10_31

He arrived on Saturday, is 11 weeks old and his "sensible, everyday name" is Oliver - maybe called Ollie; we don't know yet. And, as he should, he is keeping secret unto himself his

"His ineffable effable
Eeffanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name."

- T.S. Eliot

For such a little guy, he knows a lot. He figured out the litter box right away without a single mistake. He knows where his food and water are and he made it clear the first night that a bed with a human in it is a lot more comfy than a box with a towel, so we've ditched the box already. He also has a strong voice. He complains loudly if I go into another room and he behaves, in general (as kittens are required to do by law), like the Energizer Bunny - with pretty much the same attitude.

Oliver is a Savannah, a hybrid, about 15 percent serval - a medium-sized wild cat native to central Africa - and the rest, Serengetti and Bengal, two relatively new domestic breeds. I don’t believe in keeping wild animals, nor in breeding them with domestics. But these grow up to be so damned beautiful and this little male became available when I was looking for a new feline friend. It is not the only contradiction in my life.

2004_10_31oplayingsmall Savannahs grow to be huge – twice the size of average housecats. They are friendly, active, talkative, but docile – that is, they complain loudly when irritated, but they don’t scratch or bite. Sort of like Crabby Old Lady. They love to play in water and they like to be walked outdoors on a leash. I haven’t decided yet if I will do that; there are a lot of big dogs in the neighborhood who don't even like each other.

Cats and old ladies seem to go together. There was, 20 years ago, an old woman who crept into the neighborhood at night to feed the strays in the empty lot across the street. She disappeared with the cats when an apartment house was built there and I choose to believe she moved on then to care for stray cats elsewhere. And we all know stories of old ladies who live with 27 cats.

It is my fear of becoming that crazy old cat woman everyone points at that has held my personal cat population to one-at-a-time over the years. The beauty of cats takes my breath away. The pleasure I gain from their appearance, grace and attitude - and watching their own pleasure at those same attributes - never wanes; it has never been easy to resist adding more.

Oliver 2004_10_31sittingupsmall_1 Some people say two cats are better than one, that they keep one another company when you are away, and I have in the distant past kept more than one. But none of my only-cats ever complained nor appeared to be lonely – after all, cats sleep 17 hours a day - and one died in my arms eight years ago at age 20, having hated every other cat he had occasion to encounter during his long life. So the Bennett household will remain at one cat, two humans – if you count Crabby Old Lady.

And now that I have, with the acquisition of Oliver, officially entered into the company of old womanhood, let us rejoice.