Previous month:
April 2010
Next month:
June 2010

You Asked for Photos of the New Digs

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Freda, who lives in Scotland, has sent in her photo for the Where Elders Blog feature. You can see it here. Instructions for including a photo of your blogspace are here.]


category_bug_journal2.gif

Ollie on the Bed

Cats! You just get the bed made all nice and neat and smooth and the cat makes kitty prints all over the quilt and plops down for a nap. Their sense of neatness and elegance applies only to themselves and nothing around them.

Except for hanging pictures and other objects on walls, we're finished. Ollie the cat and I have settled into a routine already - in Ollie's case, the same as in Maine: breakfast at 5AM, or else.

But once the coffee is ready, my new office area is a pleasant place to work while the sun comes up, although I need an additional desk lamp on the right.

Office Early Morning

That faux hotel key box will be hung higher on the wall as soon as I figure out where I want it horizontally.

Here's a shot from the living room into the office at about the same time of day – early morning. The rattan furniture is working out nicely in the office.

Living Room and Office

The sideboard fit against the back wall of the dining area just as I had envisioned the first time I walked into the apartment.

Dining Room

Those counter stools on the left of the table have become a joke. The counter is much higher than the one in Maine so anyone sitting there will find his or her chin on the counter.

In Maine, I made the living room into the office and library with built-in bookshelves covering one wall. I can't afford to have those made this time, but the guest room will be come the library.

Guest Room

Shelves of some sort will go along the wall where the book boxes are stored now and I'll trade in the double bed for a trundle bed that can be a sofa when there are no guests. But it will take awhile to work out the details I want.

Yesterday, my brother and his wife treated me to breakfast at the St. Honore boulangerie in Lake Oswego.

St. Honore

Several other people had also recommended it and none of them were wrong. It's filled with scrumptious breads along with gorgeous and delicate French pastries.

We all had the Brioche Cocotte, a brioche filled with a poached egg and chive-flavored crème fraiche with a couple of strips of crispy bacon and a small salad. Yum. I'll go back regularly for that.

Brioche Cocotte

And there you have it – pretty much all I can tell and show you about my new home and town so far. Because cats always get the last word, here's Ollie again who, of course, figured out in no time the best way to frame his beautiful self.

Ollie Framed


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Meghan Again


ELDER MUSIC: Chattanooga Choo Choo

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Time for another travelogue.

Choo Choo Train

This time we’re boarding the Chattanooga Choo Choo thanks to Glenn Miller.

Glenn Miller

I imagine there’s no need to tell TimeGoesBy readers about Glenn, you all know who he is. This tune was featured in the film Sun Valley Serenade and the vocals are by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires. It was number 1 on the charts for quite a long time.

♫ Glenn Miller - Chattanooga Choo Choo

Hey there Tex, what you say?
Step aside partner, it's my day
Lend an ear and listen to my version
(Of a really solid, Tennessee excursion)

Tennessee

There’s an obvious Tennessee song, Ballad of Davy Crockett. Just kidding. As you can see, there are a couple I could use but I’m going for the oldie but goody, Tennessee Waltz. Patti Page, of course, singing with herself.

♫ Patti Page - Tennessee Waltz

Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
(Yes Yes) Track 29!
Boy you can give me a shine
(Can you afford to board, the Chattanooga Choo Choo?)
I've got my fare
And just a trifle to spare

You leave the Pennsylvania station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothin' could be finer
(then to have your ham and eggs in Carolina)

Well, what do we have here? Pennsylvania, Baltimore and Carolina. All good song places.

I’m going to play fast and loose with Pennsylvania and not have anything to do with that state (besides, the reference was to the station in New York), but continue the Glenn Miller theme. This is, of course, an old phone number.

Telephone

Pennsylvania Six Five Thousand.

♫ Glenn Miller - Pennsylvania 6-5000

In a previous travelogue, I also had Baltimore and I wondered which of two fine songs I would feature. I needn’t have worried; now I can use the other one. This is the Baltimore lighthouse (I think; Baltimoreans can correct me if I’m wrong).

Baltimore

This tune is quite different from Glenn Miller. It’s Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris with Streets of Baltimore.

♫ Gram Parsons - Streets of Baltimore

The song only mentions Carolina, it doesn’t specify which particular one. That’s okay, there’s another song that also does that, Carolina on My Mind. Here’s one of the Carolinas.

Carolina

The singer is James Taylor and he recorded this on his first album (the one before Sweet Baby James).

James Taylor - Carolina In My Mind

When you hear the whistle blowin' eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin'
(Woo Woo Chattanooga there you are)

There's gonna be, a certain party at the station
Satin and Lace
I used to call funny face
She's gonna cry
Until I tell her that I'll never roam
(So Chattanooga Choo Choo)
Won't you choo choo me home.
Get aboard...
All aboard...
Chattanooga choo choo
Won't you choo choo me home

Don’t you like rhyming “coal in” with “rollin'”?

Another Tennessee reference. We can handle that. In fact, we can do it with a song whose title is reminiscent of the first Tennessee song. Indeed, it shares most of the title of that song. This is Jesse Winchester with Brand New Tennessee Waltz.

♫ The Jessie Winchester - The Brand New Tennessee Waltz

Nearly the end of the line.

To the east of Melbourne, where I live, there is a mountain range called The Dandenongs. We call it a mountain range; people from other countries may call them bits of hills. However you refer to them, there is an old, narrow-gauge railway that runs through these hills and the train that runs on it is called Puffing Billy.

Puffing Billy

I mention this for no particular reason except that we’re sort of training today. I’ll finish with a completely gratuitous train song by The Four Preps, Down By The Station.

♫ The Four Preps - Down By The Station


GRAY MATTERS: Preserving Social Security

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


It’s past time that Social Security’s advocates, friends and beneficiaries quit playing defense for the single most popular American program and take the offensive against those who attack and lie about Social Security with intent to kill it.

First, find out if you have an IRA or other retirement saving accounts with a bank or brokerage or investment house that has been calling for the privatization of Social Security. If so, transfer the account (without penalty) and tell the broker why.

My broker/financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, is a champion of Social Security as a necessary and dependable leg of one’s retirement income. Ask your broker/financial adviser where he/she stands on Social Security privatization, i.e., changing it from pension and disability insurance into millions of 401(k)s subject to the rock and roll of the stock market.

If you’re affluent enough to have invested with the Blackstone group, transfer your money elsewhere. The hedge fund, whose trade in funny money helped bring on this recession, was founded by billionaire Peter Peterson, who retains an interest in the firm and spends millions through his various foundations to undermine Social Security with the claim that the program and the benefits for the undeserving elderly population’s are bankrupting the nation.

Second, Social Security advocate organizations and politically active beneficiaries and older members can join in the new effort by the National Academy of Social Insurance to expand Social Security to resume the coverage of 22-year-old students, especially the disadvantaged, which was ended in 1981, when Social Security was in imminent financial danger.

Such an expansion could dovetail with the new health insurance reforms which mandate coverage on their parents’ policy for children up to age 25. And it would not only help these families and kids pay for college, but it would strengthen the Social Security system with support from the young which has been eroding as too many the mainstream media buy into the Peterson nonsense that Social Security is in financial trouble. It isn’t.

Indeed, the 75-year-old program, which is in the black for another 30 years even if nothing is done, will outlast Blackstone as it has outlasted Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns. Enron, Eastern Airlines and the Pennsylvania Railroad, a few recessions and lots of wars.

During those years, Social Security has never defaulted on a payment. Indeed, it expanded to cover the disabled and the spouses and children survivors of beneficiaries who died before age 66, like those killed on 9/11.

And since the fixes of 1983-4 by the Reagan administration and Alan Greenspan’s commission, Social Security has run a surplus every year, enough to guarantee benefits for the huge boomer generation. Even this year and next, when high unemployment forces the program to pay out more than it takes in in payroll taxes, Social Security will still run surpluses of more than $100 million.

That should lead defenders to their main point, which they should repeat like a mantra: Aside from its administrative costs, Social Security’s benefits for 50 million Americans does not contribute even one dollar to the federal deficit. Let me repeat for reporters who are too lazy to understand Social Security: Aside from its relatively small administrative costs (which are in the Social Security Administration’s budget), Social Security adds nothing to the deficit.

In fact, Social Security earns around $700 million a year, financing the federal debt by selling the Treasury its low-interest special issue bonds. Social Security could solve its long term fiscal problem if it could sell the government higher-interest bonds. But, of course, that would raise the deficit.

Ignoramuses suggest that these bonds in Social Security’s West Virginia vaults are nothing more than “worthless IOUs.” As the Chinese, Japanese and other investors know, U.S. IOUs are as good as cash. Indeed, if you examine your paper money or your employer’s check, they are IOUs until you spend or cash them out.

If the IOUs were “worthless,” why would Peterson and his greedy Wall Street and hedge fund investment banking allies be so eager to get their hands on the $2.5 trillion in Social Security bonds? What a tasty dish to set before the kings in their counting houses!

A friend at AARP says it will do no good to bash billionaires. I disagree because their message, backed by their money and the megaphone of the media, conservative Democrats in the Congress and the hysteria over the deficit has undermined support for Social Security and Medicare. And AARP has not been aggressive in helping to challenge Peterson and his deficit hawk allies who have been given aid and comfort by the administration which was bullied into creating the anti-Social Security commission on the deficit.

Fortunately, the latest defense and offense on behalf of Social Security has come from a definitive report on the future of the program prepared with the help of the Congressional Budget Office and published by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

The seemingly alarming news is that Social Security faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years. But the committee chairman, Senator Herbert Kohl (D., Wis.) echoes the current conclusion of Alan Greenspan, the Academy of Social Insurance and nearly every other expert, that the shortfall could be fixed with what Kohl called “tweaks.”

For Kohl and most advocates, cutting benefits is not an option, nor is reducing the criteria for the mandated cost of living (COLA) raises. And Kohl rejects the report’s suggestion that the future fiscal problems could be solved by raising the retirement age from 66 to 70. That would solve only 30 percent of the shortfall, and would delay and thus rob millions of workers of the benefits they now expect and count on.

Besides, many blue collar workers in tough, physically demanding jobs should not be required to work until 70; a coal miner may not be able to keep working after 66.

There are more likely alternatives which are obvious and simple: As the Social Security Trustees’ conservative outlook for the future reported last year, a 1.1 percent raise in the workers' and employers' payroll tax (now at 6.2 percent each) would wipe out the shortfall for 75 years. The trustees, incidentally, base their estimates on 1.5 percent annual growth in the GDP, which is far less than the past years.

More popular with the Obama administration, if Congress abolished the $106,800 cap on the wages subject to payroll taxes, the entire $5.3 trillion shortfall would disappear. Obama has suggested raising the cap to $250,00. Interestingly, several of the nation’s more honorable billionaires, like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates - junior and senior - have called for an end to the cap, noting that they are paying no more in Social Security taxes than a well-paid secretary.

As far as I know, they do not hold that Social Security’s assets should be put up for grabs on Wall Street. But then Buffet and the Gates's helped create wealth and something tangible, instead of a house of paper that collapsed.

You can see the Aging Committee’s information as well the views of advocates at the Committee's website, and you may read or download the full report here (pdf).

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


How Quickly Old Age Comes On

category_bug_journal2.gif It's done. Or close enough. I've emptied every packing box (except the books which must wait until I figure out shelving). I've put everything in its place. No pictures are hung, but that's the fun part – figuring out which goes where – which takes some living time to decide.

Sometimes, in short bursts and for what I think are good reasons, I get fanatical about a task, and although I had been moving forward with unpacking at a reasonable and steady pace since Monday, yesterday, it came upon me suddenly, was the day to be finished with it.

For six hours, from 5AM, I didn't stop except for a glass of water or cup of coffee for fuel. I emptied, organized, stored. The footstools finally turned up so I could fill top shelves in the kitchen and bedrooms. I even made the bed in the guest room.

Until six hours later, at 1PM, when I collapsed.

It is amazing how quickly old age appears. I recall getting from my teen years to mid-sixties without noticing much change in my physical capabilities. That's half a century during which, gray hairs and some wrinkles aside, I could tote boxes, climb hills, clean house, paint rooms and whatever else I deemed necessary without needing to rest unduly.

But the fatigue I felt at midday yesterday invaded every part of my body; back, arms and legs ached. My mind was empty except for the single goal of reaching the room where I could be horizontal. I don't remember ever being that tired.

So how is it that we toot along for 50 years of midlife, our bodies up to whatever tasks we put them through and then they rebel within a space of five to ten years? During all those midyears, nothing much changed in what I could do. Now, compared to the length of my life, it seems to have braked from high-speed to crawl in one sudden burst. I was expecting a slower downhill race.

A two-hour nap was enough to keep me going until dinner time yesterday and I feel fine this morning. The restorative power of sleep has not waned yet.

New photos next week, including Ollie the cat, possumlady.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Meghan Again


Muddling Through

category_bug_journal2.gif I am amazed, touched, overwhelmed, pleased and feeling a little abashed by all your good wishes, advice, enthusiasm and blessings throughout this move from Portland east to Portland west.

Beginning with the post on 8 February about my intention to switch coasts, through my current settling in, it is only busy-ness and the distraction of tracking all the details that have prevented me from acknowledging, until now, all your encouraging comments. I so appreciate all of you.

A thread running through many of your comments during these three-plus months is the idea of my courage in making the move. I've been trying to puzzle that out because it doesn't look like bravery to me - in general or at my age - just tedious and tiring, but equally exciting. The dictionary definitions of courage go something like this one from Encarta:

”The ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.”

There was no danger or pain (physical or psychic) in my decision. The difficulties were mostly logistical, but problems were solved one way and another. My biggest uncertainty was whether cost overruns (everything costs more than you imagine) would impoverish me. And there was nothing to fear – except the potential cost overrun. (The move did cost more than I had planned, but not enough to lose sleep over.)

As far as being deflected from my goal, once the contract was signed on my Maine house, which happened on 15 March, there was no backing out.

Plus, it is not like I'm moving to Afghanistan or some remote Chinese village where I don't know the language and customs. I was born in Portland, Oregon and have visited often over the 50-odd years since I left. I've gotten lost on driving errands this past week, but I generally know the territory and was already comfortable here.

And, I was not leaving behind anything in Portland, Maine that I will miss (if you don't count cheap lobster).

So I wonder if people who think I am brave to move across the country might, on second thought, find they are less comfortable with making big decisions than I am. We each approach choices in our own way; I just want them done.

Dithering is painful for me. I don't like decisions hanging over my head so I often make them quickly to relieve the anxiety. I've rarely been sorry and when something doesn't work out – like Portland, Maine – I figure out how to fix it.

The fix is not always ideal (for me, ideal living is New York City), but I learned in childhood (as so many our age did) that you can't have everything. More often than not, however, second-best and even third is good enough.

It also helps to not have regrets. I've never seen the point – what's past is past. It certainly would have saved a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, to have moved to Oregon four years ago - which I considered then – rather than Maine. But I didn't. My mistake. Fixed now.

And if the move had not been possible, I would have made Maine work well enough so that I was not miserable. What else is there to do in such circumstances.

I didn't always take setbacks and decision-making so lightly. If my mother were still with us, she would have a few tales of my teenage agonies when things didn't go my way. Mom had a saying for every situation. “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” “Into everyone's life some rain must fall.” And frequently: “Get over it, Sarah Heartburn.”

It would be lovely to think I am brave and courageous, and it's nice that some of you do. But those words should be reserved for heroes, which I definitely am not. Mostly, I try to muddle through, point myself toward what makes me feel better and hope for the best.

A housekeeping note:

There are emails from some of you that need answering. I've become a bit fanatical this week about unpacking as many cartons as possible each day and then in the evening, I'm too tired to think. I promise I'll get to them soon.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vagabonde: Recollection of a Special Kiss


Moving In – Day Two: Unpacking

category_bug_journal2.gif Even though I marked boxes reasonably well as I was packing (except, what the hell does miscellaneous mean?), there was no focus to my unpacking yesterday. Some bedroom linens here, bath there, a few clothes, personal and office files.

There is no way to store anything in the kitchen until the boxes are out of the room. You'd think I would empty those first. But no, I wandered about opening cartons at random and pulled out only the few kitchen things I need to minimally function.

It's important to make good choices about where to store things because they will probably stay in that drawer or cupboard or closet forever. If the location ends up being inconvenient, it will always be annoying. And if you're like me and later decide that the candle holders, for example, should be in a different place, you'll forget where you moved them to. More annoyance.

So some moderately serious thought needs to go into unpacking.

The part I dislike most is breaking down boxes, taping a few together and hauling them – a bit of a hike when you're dragging a lot of cardboard – to the recycling bins. So I let it go until it was impossible to move around the apartment without squeezing around them.

I bought a box of 16 large trash bags to dispose of packing paper and finished those off before mid-afternoon. But all that paper is worth it; so far, nothing is broken.

Random as the day was, a lot of boxes got emptied. But speaking of annoying, I still can't find a single waste basket or any of the three little stools I have to help me reach top shelves. Maybe that's what I think “miscellaneous” is. I'll try those boxes first today.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vagabonde: Recollection of a Special Kiss


Moving In – Day One

category_bug_journal2.gif The moving company said the van would arrive on Monday morning, sometime between 10AM and 11AM. I left Ollie the cat at my brother's home and drove here early. Good thing. The van and three men showed up at 9:15AM.

In less than three hours, all my earthly belongings had been toted into the apartment and set down in their respective rooms.

The lead mover was grateful, after negotiating everything down a narrow staircase in Maine, that this is a first-floor apartment. After I'd filled several trash bags with packing paper from the "open me first" boxes, the kitchen area looked like this:

Kitchen

It's funny how, in only 12 days you (or I, anyway) can forget what you own. In planning the layout of furniture here, I had made no allowance in my mind's eye for the rattan chair and loveseat that had made up a small sitting area in the end of my large Maine dining room.

LR

For now, they will remain in the living room – rearranged from what you see above – but I have no idea where they will eventually go. I'm sure I'll work it out in time.

Of course, the first area I made livable (after the coffee in the kitchen) was the desk in the office. (How else would you be reading this.)

It's going to be a comfortable place to work. In Maine, my desk was as far as you could get from the kitchen and still be in the apartment. Here, however, it is directly across from the kitchen – the better to keep the coffee flowing when Ollie gets me out of bed at 4AM as he did this morning.

Desk

No photo of Ollie yet, but when I brought him into his new home yesterday, he would have shrugged if cats did such a thing. I showed him where his litter box is and his food bowl, then he set about leisurely checking out all the rooms.

No hiding, no running scared and when he was satisfied, he stretched out on the sofa for a nap as though he hadn't traveled 3,000 miles or suffered through a strange hotel room, a drugged plane ride and a week fending off a dog and two cats he had no interest in knowing.

I had bought some grapes, a bottle of Oswego Hills pinot gris and a hunk of Oregon Tillamook cheddar. Then last evening, my brother and his wife, Isa, dropped by and we christened the new apartment.

After a long day, Ollie and I slept in our own bed again. There is a lot of unpacking to do, but we are home.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Vanity


Nearly Home

category_bug_journal2.gif Certainly you must be getting tired of these move updates, but there hasn't been much time to do any serious thinking. You're stuck for awhile with whatever is rolling around inside my mind.

It seems like ages since the van picked up all my earthly belongings and I've felt like a nomad since then – homeless, a woman without her own place to be. At last, this morning between 10AM and 11AM, delivery will begin and tonight I will sleep in my own bed for the first time in 12 days.

The Comcast installation on Friday went without a hitch. The internet connection is blazingly fast and I'll see how well the television connection works after I've unpacked the TV. Undoubtedly, I will set up the office first so I have a comfortable place to blog. Well, it will be first after the coffee and accoutrements. Can't work without fuel.

When the moving men have left, I will pick up Ollie the cat from my brother's house that is less than a mile away. In the seven days we were there, Ollie didn't leave the bedroom and although my brother's two cats were curious, Ollie's growls kept them at bay whenever they tried to step into the room.

So there have been no feline contretemps – a disappointment to the three humans in the house who thought the cats might have one big fight and then settle down as friends. What were we thinking?! Cats never do what you would expect or would like them to do.

After having been dragged from his home, to a hotel, onto an airplane and another strange house, I hope he understands today that he is, at last, home for good.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Elaine R. Winkler: Farmhouse of My Memory


ELDER MUSIC: Blue Moon

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Today I’m trying an experiment. “Uh oh,” I can hear you say. I’m going to feature a single song. That song is Blue Moon.

Blue Moon

Blue Moon was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934, and has been recorded by everyone (well, everyone who counts). These are what I consider the most interesting interpretations (coincidentally, they are also the ones in my collection. Okay, not all the ones in my collection or we’d be here all day).

Bobby Bland is a particular favorite of the A.M. (assistant musicologist).

Bobby Bland

Bobby “Blue” Bland is not just a blues singer, although he is that, particularly when he teamed with his friend B.B. King. He is also a great jazz singer. He could have turned his hand (and voice) to rock 'n' roll if he wanted to, and some of his songs suggest that he did just that. This version of the song is sort of blues, sort of jazz, a bit of big band and a fine way to begin.

♫ Bobby Bland - Blue Moon

Julie London was the daughter of a vaudeville song-and-dance team.

Julie London

When she was 14, the family moved to Los Angeles and not long after that she started appearing in films. Easy as that. Later, she married Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame, not my uncle with the same name). In the way of things Hollywood, they were divorced and she married Bobby Troup (who wrote Route 66; there are no Troups in my family).

This is a cool, sultry version of the song (pretty much like everything Julie sang).

♫ Julie London - Blue Moon

Bob Dylan recorded the song on his much-maligned Self Portrait album.

Bob Dylan

I remember the ordure heaped upon this record when it was released. I wondered why at the time. I thought it wasn’t a bad album at all and I still do. It’s not his best, but it’s far from his worst. This was his happily-married, non-smoking period and his voice was quite different from the way it was in the mid-sixties and the way it is now. Almost Mr. Smooth.

♫ Bob Dylan - Blue Moon

Mel Tormé’s version is probably closest to the version that we most think of when we hear the name of the song (except for some of us, see below).

Mel Torme

Besides being a great singer, Mel was also a composer and arranger, a drummer, an actor and the author of five books. He first sang professionally at age four (yikes) and wrote his first song at thirteen (double yikes). I’ll skip over the rest of his career because there’s a hell of a lot of it and just let him sing the song - well, one version of it; he recorded it several times.

♫ Mel Tormé - Blue Moon

Elvis recorded the song in his very early days at Sun Records.

Elvis

It’s far from the best song he did back then, but everything he did at the time is worth listening to. This is sort of country, sort of slow rockabilly, all Elvis. Nothing more needs to be said.

♫ Elvis-Blue Moon

People of my age (mid-sixties) had heard this song before but the version that hit us like a ton of bricks, and the one that we (well, I) remember to this day whenever the name is mentioned, is the one by The Marcels.

The Marcels

The Marcels were a doo-wop group from Philadelphia who specialised in doo-wopping (sorry about verbing the noun there) classic songs. They just threw this one together when they had a bit of time left over at the end of a recording session. It was their most successful song.

♫ The Marcels - Blue Moon

Blue Moon


GRAY MATTERS: Hospice

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


My cancer doctor told me in writing, that I had six months to live. But he acknowledged he could not be sure and that the six months could be extended indefinitely.

That made me eligible to take advantage of a little understood, free Medicare program that has been enhanced by the new health insurance reforms, and could be available to anyone with a prolonged, chronic, life-threatening illness. I’m talking about the Medicare/Medicaid hospice program.

Until recently, entering a hospice program was frightening because it meant you understood you were dying and you voluntarily agreed to forgo chemotherapy or any other curative treatment, and were given only palliatives, painkillers and bedside help from professional whose job it was to make you comfortable.

All that has changed. As Dylan Thomas told us, we should “not go gentle into that good night.” So hospice should no longer be feared and avoided like the “dying of the light.” Rather, it should be embraced as a fine, comprehensive, home health care program.

A little background: In 1995, Medicare was under assault from the Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich. Specifically, Medicare’s funds were cut to pay for private Medicare HMOs. And Medicare was criticized for the amount of money it was spending on the care of beneficiaries in the last year of their lives. Indeed, it accounted for a third of Medicare spending.

Medicare responded with its pioneer hospice program to care for the dying. Hundreds of hospices were founded around the country, most of them funded by Medicare which included nurses, social workers and devoted volunteers who became the providers of palliative care for the dying.

Private insurers followed with coverage of hospice services, but private insurance carried heavy premiums; Medicare covered 100 percent of hospice costs.

I watched how it worked for a close relative who was dying of lung cancer and his family. Hospice supplied the hospital bed set up in the home. Hospice supplied the drugs he needed for pain as well as the care to keep him clean and comfortable. And hospice helped with bereavement counseling for his wife and son.

Then, as now, he was admitted to hospice because his doctor attested that he had less than six months to live. He died three months after his diagnosis. But remember the columnist Art Buchwald who cheated death and remained in hospice care for much longer than six months?

Because such predictions are more and more uncertain as treatment options have become available, the courts forced a change in Medicare regulations. A person could not be discharged from hospice because he lived longer than six months; the six months could be renewed indefinitely.

Since 2007, Congress and Medicare have realized that with medical advances such as the CT-Scan, PET-Scan, open heart and by-pass surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, Medicare could not insist that hospice patients cannot take advantage of these possibilities while fighting his or her disease. Medicare and private insurers adopted an “open access” policy, admitting into hospice – for curative and/or palliative treatment, as long as a doctor said they had no more than six months to live.

Thus hospice has become a comprehensive health care program for the seriously ill, who may or may not be close to death. Indeed, as I have learned, it is not at all rare that a beneficiary can get well enough to graduate from hospice. My hospice expects me to be one of those beneficiaries.

In the meantime, hospice assigns to a beneficiary a nurse who comes by your home regularly to check your vital signs, see how you’re doing and help with chronic or even acute medical problems. Even more important, the assigned nurse or another nurse is on call 24/7. That means that if there is an emergency, such as a urinary problems, or the side effects of the chemotherapy, you need not go to the emergency room.

I’ve learned that the hospice nurse on call is equipped and trained to deal with such problems. No longer do I need to call 911 on a weekend and go to an emergency room. Besides being traumatic and tiring, it would cost Medicare hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Similarly, while a hospice beneficiary may keep routine appointments with doctors, hospice nurses are equipped to deal with colds, the flu and other ailments that would ordinarily send you to a physician at Medicare’ expense. And hospice will help a patient’s oncologist by drawing blood often to keep track of possible problems such as a drop in the red or white cell counts or potassium and iron levels.

Thus hospice becomes your caregiver in fighting the disease as well as preparing for the worst. Medicare hospice, for example, supplies beneficiaries with kits that include morphine and other powerful painkillers; I’ve put my kit away and have almost forgotten about it. The best option is to avoid hospitalization for your illness for Medicare requires that hospital patients forgo curative treatment.

In addition, Medicare hospice assigns to beneficiaries a licensed, professional social worker to help family caregivers with advice, counseling and resources to help patients and families cope with the stresses of life-threatening and debilitating illness. Hospice may supply a hospital-style bed with linens or oxygen, or an IV to prevent dehydration.

The recently passed health reforms expanded curative and palliative hospice care for children in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It allows children enrolled in either program to receive hospice services without forgoing curative treatment. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are expected to require states to comply with the changes, which are to take effect in 2013.

Finally, as of next January 1, the reforms will require that a nurse practitioner or doctor must have a face-to-face encounter with the patient at the end of the six month period to recertify his/her eligibility.

You can read or download and print [pdf] Medicare’s 16-page booklet on its hospice services, including where to find a hospice near you.

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Tiptoeing into a New Life

category_bug_journal2.gif No matter how well you plan, how much you organize and how many lists you make, something always goes wrong. I had expected that my stuff would be here in Lake Oswego by today, but it won't arrive until Monday. Meanwhile, Ollie and I are bunking with my brother, his wife, two cats and a dog.

The flight from Maine on Tuesday was long, but uneventful. Ollie the cat was zonked out until an hour before we arrived at PDX. It's three days later and he is still not out from under the bed covers and he scoots away when I try to pet him – standard operating procedure for cats when they are pissed off at their humans.

But look at it from his point of view: some strange people removed every bit of furniture from his home of four years. Then we moved into a small hotel room for five days. Just when he was getting accustomed to that, I shoved a pill down his throat and he was stuck in his carrier for 12 hours with a roaring noise around him the whole time. Then he woke up in yet another new room with smells of other animals.

In those circumstances, I'd be pissed off too. But how come, in some circumstances, cats can be uncanny in appearing to understand English and in others, when you try to explain something, they know only feline. It's probably deliberate on their part.

Lake Oswego is lovely. I've rented a car and have learned my way around the main part of town while taking care of some essential errands. We had dinner a couple of nights ago in a sensationally good sushi place in Northwest Portland.

The apartment is – well, empty. Today Comcast will install the cable and broadband modem. I was running out of clean clothes so I tried the washer and dryer yesterday. They work fine. I investigated the local Safeway, a much more lavish supermarket than I was accustomed to in Maine. My brother tells me there are even better ones to choose from nearby.

In protest against the big banks, I opened a checking account in a local bank. It's an odd and elegant little place on the second floor of a building on the main street of Lake Oswego. No tellers in the usual sense, just people scattered at pretty wooden desks where you sit to transact even such simple tasks as a deposit. Quite civilized.

A couple of days ago, my brother published a Time Goes By story in Oregon's Jewish Review, of which he is editor. You may have read it here, but if not, you can find it at his paper's website.

With the delay of the delivery of my household goods, this is a quiet down time. I'm extraordinarily tired, but also eager to get on with my new life next week.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: Italy – Where Have You Gone?


GAY AND GRAY: Pat's Story

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif Last summer, my friend Pat turned 80. At her party she made available a memoir of her life compiled with the help of her friend Laura. It's a fascinating tale. It also reminds me, a lesbian now 62, just how much had changed by the time I came along, in part through the bravery of women like Pat.

For this column, Pat has given me permission to share some of her story (in italic type) and I'll counterpose to some observations about my age group to bring out the contrasts. The 18 years between us made for many differences. Pat begins:

I was born at home, with the help of a midwife, near Hayward, California, on July 12, 1929. That's exactly what my birth certificate says, "near Hayward...”

“I would call the neighborhood 'city lots' but in those days, that meant quarter acre lots...and everyone had vegetable gardens, chickens, rabbits...everyone. It was the depression!

“...We were low class. Now I guess the word is working class. Everyone was poor, but everyone got by. Like many others in the neighborhood, my mother and her sisters worked at Hunt Brothers Cannery, which was only a block away.”

During Pat's childhood, the Depression and a semi-rural, neighborhood-centered life was the reference norm for many Americans. I grew up in a big city in the prosperous 50s - my reality included a strong sense that national well-being derived from industrial production. We would drive by the Niagara Falls chemical factories (think Love Canal) and the refinery by the river, burning off oil day and night. My parents looked at them proudly. Delight in sheer productive capacity was what World War II had taught my parents and their friends.

”I never did very well at school. I had a very hard time with learning to read. Looking back, I wonder if I had some hearing loss even then, or some kind of learning disability. Who knows? But I really struggled. By the time I was 16, just starting 10th grade, I was impatient to go to work, earn a living, have some money in my pocket. So that's what I did, I quit school and went to work in the canneries. Within a year, I'd settled into line work at Owens Illinois glass factory, although I'd had to fudge my age a little in order to get hired...

“No one would believe me if I told you how shy and quiet and serious I was when I started at Owens. I was a 'mind your own business' kind of person. It took quite a few years before I began to speak out and express myself...it was a slow process. But gradually I got more confident. I became active in the union, I was a shop steward, and even union president. Part of that 'growing up' included going back and earning my GED. Owens encouraged people to be educated and was very supportive about that.”

By the time I came along, anyone with the slightest aspirations had been convinced they had to finish high school. And the post-World War II G.I. bill had even made college imaginable for wide swathes of the population. Apparently the Owens Illinois company shared in the national push for more education in the 1950s.

”Owens was a community in itself - there were almost 2000 employees altogether and we did shift work, one week on days, one week on swing, then a week working graveyard; that's how they did it in those days, and that was my life for the next 30+ years. Owens had a women's softball team, and Owens had women like me! I made friends, buddies; I didn't feel so alone...

“In those early days at Owens my hair was short - they all knew...but the word "lesbian" was never used. You were 'butch.'

“I remember reading The Well of Loneliness...I thought, 'wow, they write books about it!' There was so much I was in the dark about...

“My social life centered at Owens. There were gay bars that you could go to, Last Chance, Pearl's, but I was cautious, not wanting to get caught in a pick-up, a raid, which were frequent particularly in the 40s and 50s. Owens had a policy that what you did away from work was a reflection on your work...so if you weren't 'a good citizen' you could get yourself fired.

“My buddies and I were attracted to straight women. That's all that we knew; that's just how it was. We always hoped they would stay with us 'forever,' and some were lucky; my buddy Mick and her partner Erla were together about 30 years until Erla's death. Most of us, though, would end up with broken hearts. We all did the best we could.”

It wasn't much easier to be a lesbian teenager in the early 60s, at least as I experienced that time. The difference was that a kind of snickering prurience that characterized the 1950s had taught women who were striving uncomfortably to fulfill the feminine mystique that one of the ways they could flunk their female role was to be a homosexual.

Mary McCarthy's novel, The Group, was an artifact of that consciousness. There was a sort of dirty awareness that some people were homosexual - that those unfortunates would probably live a sad, lonely life and die a miserable death. No one wanted to be one of those people, even those of us who were gay.

Yet by the 1970s, there began to be visible gay people who were saying, “no! there's nothing wrong we me!" Gay visibility, "coming out," began to change attitudes, to make being gay just part of life, not a dirty secret.

Moreover, change was coming for women...

”I knew from my experiences at Owens that there was no reason a woman could not be a crew leader or even a manager. We were training the men, and they got the promotions. There had never been a woman in management at the Owens Oakland plant.

“In the early 70s, with Equal Opportunity, I filed a grievance to become crew leader. There was a lot of haggling back and forth, management would come up with reasons against, and I'd respond; it kept on and on and finally they said, 'OK, Pat, we give up,' and I became the first woman crew leader at that Oakland plant.

“A few years later I was finally promoted to management - no more shift work, no more hourly pay! My final position at Owens before retirement in 1984, was as a 'service engineer,' visiting our customers' facilities, mostly at that time wineries all over northern California, and trouble shooting whatever problems they might be having with the manufacture of our various commercial containers.”

My generation really got the benefit of women like Pat standing up for themselves. I can remember when the newspaper classified ads were divided into "help wanted: male" and "help wanted: female." But by the time I landed in San Francisco in the 1970s, it was possible - though sometimes difficult - for me to make a living in construction.

Sure, there were lots of guys who didn't think I could do it. Some women I knew were harassed on the job. But those guys could not stop me as long as I could do the work. And in less stereotypically male jobs, women were getting into everything. Times had changed.

Pat closes her memoir: ”I was almost 60 before I traveled anywhere outside the U.S. but since then, I've been lucky enough to see Australia including Darwin and Kakadu National Park, also Singapore, Hong Kong, also Paris, London, Portugal and Madera lsland where my family was from - and New York City, the Southwest and even Las Vegas.

“I'm glad to have seen all those places, but now I'm glad to stay home; I'm happy with my dog Pebbles, my garden, all the projects around my house that never seem to get finished, you know? There's never enough time for all I want to do.

“And every day I give thanks to the Creator; I give thanks for everything. I walk in my garden and every little growing thing is a miracle. There has to be something larger than a man or a woman, larger than 'God' to create all this! It's a shame we don't spend more time in awe about what's all around us, and appreciating it rather than destroying it. So I give thanks for life, for the life of every one and everything around me.”

I want to feel that kind of delight and gratitude for living when I'm 80!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: ID Bracelet


REFLECTIONS: On a Republican Return

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.


Category_bug_reflections I can’t figure why Republican Sue Lowden who opposed the health reforms and seriously suggested bartering (with chickens or vegetables) to pay for medical care, is ahead in the polls and may defeat Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who has led the fractious Senate to pass historic legislation and whose position gives Nevada great influence.

But then, consider the real and frightening possibility that the tortuous Oklahoma law all but outlawing all abortions, and the Arizona law calling for a police state to deal with undocumented immigrants could easily became the laws of our land should this brand of Republicans return to power next year or in 2012.

These draconian laws are not isolated events, but part of a pattern of reaction that threatens a restoration of the worst of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney/Newt Gingrich/Sara Palin/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck politics.. These are people who have threatened to secede or nullify laws they don’t like or understand because a liberal Democrat is in office.

I had written this and then saw that Frank Rich echoed my thoughts in the May 2 New York Times:

“The more you examine the (Arizona’s) law provisions and proponents (every Republican in the legislature) the more you realize it’s the latest and (so far) most vicious battle in a far broader movement that is not just about illegal immigrants – and that is steadily increasing its annexation of one of America’s two major political parties...The law dovetails seamlessly with the national ‘Take Back America’ crusade...”

First we should take note of the meanness of the crusaders and these Republicans as they toss around epithets like “socialist,” “communist,” “traitor” and “baby killer.” Such rhetoric that has been thrown at the president, Democrats and liberals has its origins in Newt Gingrich’s 1995 memo to the Republican political action committee, called GOPAC: “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” which taught conservatives to use sharp and negative words and exaggerations to describe Democrats and positive expressions for Republicans.

And Gingrich lectured in training sessions on how to use “shield issues” such as abortion, same sex unions, gay rights and immigration to disguise the Republican agenda while putting Democrats on the defensive.

Consider the downright maliciousness of the Republicans towards women going through a crisis of an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy in the Oklahoma anti-abortion law, which evades the guarantees of Roe v. Wade. The law debases women and treats them like farm animals because they choose (and may need ) an abortion.

Even if their pregnancy is life threatening, they are required to undergo an ultrasound and a vaginal procedure to view the fetus. Mississippi’s abortion prohibition stands even in the case of birth defects. Florida’s law requires a doctor to describe the ultrasound results even if the woman doesn’t want to know. And these Republicans preach against the dangers of government intrusion into our lives.

The Arizona law is similarly vindictive as well as a racist reaction to the fact that, as Rich pointed out, the state’s Anglo-Caucasian population, which votes Republican  is becoming a minority. Senator John McCain, who once supported a decent immigration law, now panders to the radicals who have him under siege.

The Times veteran Supreme Court reporter, Linda Greenhouse, called the law a police state measure not unlike the worst of Soviet communism and South African pass laws, which required black people to have passes to go to certain areas. She described it as “breathing while undocumented.” She is correct when she says that Barry Goldwater, a true conservative, would never have supported such a trampling on his libertarian soul.

The language of the law is bad enough as a government intrusion into an individual’s rights, but its consequences include breaking up hundreds of families who have lived and worked in America for years if one partner is undocumented.

Former Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, from California, who also believes in the right to life (which, he says, begins at conception) wants to deport the live children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. He has also favored repeal of the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal rights to all Americans including, according to the courts, children of undocumented immigrants.

And Arizona followed up its racism with punitive legislation to ban teachers with “heavy accents” and to prohibit ethnic studies. In Alabama the Republican candidate for governor said he saw no need to study any language besides English.

I have dwelt on the these two issues, because they illustrate the most politically profitable and easily demagoged “shield issues” that put Democrats on the defensive. But they are all of a piece with the radical and revanchist efforts of the Republicans to take revenge for the 2008 election and “take America back” - that is, take the nation back from Barack Obama and his government activism.

That seems to mean returning to the agendas of the last dozen years during which the Republican Party has undergone the kind of metamorphosis imagined by Kafka. His character awoke to find out he had turned into a bug.

The radical Republicans, for example, include an army of fundamentalist Christians who believe, as George Bush believed, that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, and that creationism belongs right up there with (or even ahead of) Charles Darwin in public schools.

These Republicans would also end any real action on climate change for among this party’s leaders are the two most conservative, anti-government senators from Oklahoma, James Imhofe, who denies any possibility of man-made climate change, and Dr. Tom Coburn, who delights in saying “no” to any and all legislation and nominees by Democrats. Funny that both anti-government senators collect their handsome salaries and perks.

But the denial of evolution and climate change would be in line with a revival of a Bush know-nothing doctrine, reported in Politics Daily by Sheila Kaplan, who wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency staff was forced to ignore relevant science in monitoring data on the environment’s impact on human health.

The same was true at the Food and Drug Administration and every federal regulatory body that was based on science.

There is little doubt that the radical Republicans, with the help of the insurance and drug industry, would relax or ignore all regulations of the recently passed health reforms. They may not be able to repeal it, but Republicans are not known for enforcing regulations. So expect Medicare to be privatized. And Social Security may fall to the privatizers.

If and when the Tea Baggers take back America, their Republican masters will put the financial regulators like the Securities Exchange Commission back to sleep so we can have a repeat of Madoff, Lehman Brothers. Said Roy Ulrich, writing for the think tank, Demos, “Financial regulators during the Bush era kept their foot off the pedal for ideological reasons and failed to spot” or simply ignored the crimes before their eyes.

Similarly, the Office of Thrift Supervision, led by regulators who didn’t believe in regulation, failed to see the coming collapse of Washington Mutual.

Closer to criminal neglect were the hijinks, including parties, drug and alcohol use, sexual encounters, and bribery in the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The latter is under investigation for failing its regulatory responsibilities which contributed to the disaster at the Massey Energy mine that killed 29 miners. Massey had been cited for dozens of safety violations, but suffered only wrist slaps.

The Minerals Management Service, according to the Wall Street Journal, failed to require British Petroleum to install an acoustical switch, or control, required on foreign oil rigs that might have prevented today’s catastrophe. The reason? Regulation was not a priority for BP which has been involved in several oil spills.

The switch costs a half-million dollars to install but, according to environmental attorney Mike Papantonio, speaking on the MSNBC’s Ed Schultze show, that regulation was tossed out for drilling off America’s shores during still-secret meeting Vice-president Dick Cheney had with oil industry executives in 2001.

In addition, says the Journal, the job Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, did in failing to cement the well has also been called into question. Maybe better cementing or the installation of the acoustic switch might not have worked, but we’ll never know.

Too often in journalism, we are so preoccupied with events, each of which is worth our full attention, that we fail to connect the dots from the Republican crusade against abortion and illegal immigrants to the mine disaster, to the financial meltdown and the unregulated free market that is now responsible for the worst environmental disaster to befall the nation.

Is this the America the radical Republicans intend to give us when they take it back?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sheila Halet: The Book of Days


On to Oregon

category_bug_journal2.gif The closing in Maine went without a hitch yesterday. These days, you don't get to feel rich even for a few minutes holding a big, fat check in your hands; the funds were immediately wired to Oregon to pay for my new home, just a number at the bottom of a page.

Yesterday evening, the wonderful Waring (see his photo here), who helped me pack and hauled away a whole lot of trash for me, stopped by on his way home from work for a final visit. It was great to see him and sad to say goodbye.

The good with the bad, yin and yang, the balancing act of life.

With the requirement to be at the airport two hours ahead of flight time and a plane change in Atlanta, Ollie and I will be 12 hours traveling today. His sedative lasts eight hours, so part way through the trip, I'll dose him again. If all goes well, he will snooze the whole way.

As lilalia of Yum Yum Cafe and Claude of Photoblogging in Paris noted on yesterday's post, too bad I can't be drugged too. But I've got a good book to read so I'll be fine.

Here's a question for you. For all the years I've been doing Time Goes By, I have published each day's story at 5:30AM eastern U.S. time. Because I wake early, I can usually give it one last check for typos and fixes, then it is available for European readers in the late morning, east coast Americans with their coffee and it's ready for west coast people whenever they waken. Australians – well, you're on your own; I can never figure out what day it is there.

Now, I will be living three hours later than what I'm accustomed too. I could maintain the schedule by setting each day's post to publish at 2:30AM my (new) time. But I won't be able to do a final check and some posts might be messier. Or, I could set it for 5:30AM Pacific time, which would change the arrival time for everyone.

What's your preference?

See you soon from the west coast...


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: Just Say the Words


Out of Time and Place

category_bug_journal2.gif It is almost done, this cross-country move from Portland to Portland. At about noon today, two real estate agents, a title company official, the buyers and I will meet to sign a lot of legal documents that will transfer ownership of what was my home for the past four years.

But it hasn't felt like mine for awhile now. I was withdrawing my attachment to it during the weeks I filled up boxes with my belongings. By the time the movers hauled out everything last Wednesday, my heart and mind were already elsewhere – but not quite anywhere.

Hotel rooms, transient by nature and often interchangeable, don't count as being some place and during these past five days, I have often felt disconnected – out of time, unsure of the day or date and forgetful of long-time routines such as vitamins in the morning. I'm feeling a bit light-headed, not quite in and of the world.

An unfamiliar sensation - but not unpleasant either. A downtime, perhaps, while disconnecting from one life and preparing to engage with a new one.

Ollie the cat, however, now seems to think of this small room as home. He likes to watch the birds when I open the window for him, and he has assigned himself the role of sentinel; when anyone walks by our door in the hall, he instantly leaps to full alert, growling at the door until they are well past it.

It took him only two days to go from fraidy-cat-under-the-bed to protector of our tiny realm. I'm glad he doesn't know that tomorrow I will drug him and stuff him in a small container for a 12-hour journey after which he will wake up in another new room – also temporary – until the moving van arrives and we can set up our new home.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Too Many Cowboys


ELDER MUSIC: The Music of Kurt Weill

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Kurt Weill was born in Dessau, Germany in 1900.

Kurt Weill

He was a precocious kiddie and performed publicly on piano by the time he was 15. His name is inextricably entwined with the poet Bertolt Brecht.

Bertolt Brecht

However, before he met Bertie, Kurt composed symphonies, string quartets, lieder, tone poems, operas, psalms, divertimenti and any number of other musical pieces.

He met Lotte Lenya in 1924 and they were married in 1926. They divorced in 1933 and they married again in 1937. After Kurt died, Lotte looked after his work and was a great champion of it.

By the mid-1920s, Kurt was composing operas/musicals/whatever you want to call them with Bertolt Brecht, the most famous of which are The Threepenny Opera and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, but there were many others.

His collaboration with Bertie came to an end in 1930 because Kurt said that he had trouble setting the communist party manifesto to music.

Kurt left Nazi Germany in early1933. He was a prominent and popular Jewish composer and the Nazis couldn’t have that sort of thing in their pure country, thank you very much. In that same year, The Threepenny Opera opened on Broadway, but closed after thirteen performances to mixed reviews. Oh well.

Kurt became a naturalised American citizen and he seldom (and reluctantly) spoke or wrote German again, with the exception of letters to his parents who had escaped to Israel.

Established in New York, he continued writing pieces for Broadway and occasionally films, and collaborated with writers such as Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes and others.

Kurt suffered a heart attack shortly after his 50th birthday and died. His work is probably more widely performed today than it was when he was alive.

The first song of Kurt Weill I encountered (although I wouldn’t have known who he was at the time as I was a whippersnapper) was Louis Armstrong performing Mack the Knife. This was covered a few years later by Bobby Darin (not nearly as well as Louis in my opinion).

I was never a fan of the rock group, The Police (this may seem an odd turn but bear with me). The singer from that outfit, Mr. Sting, has also recorded the song that’s as close as an English-language version can get to the original (Die Moritat von Mackie Messer).

Here is Sting with The Ballad of Mack the Knife.

Sting

♫ Sting - The Ballad of Mack the Knife

It seems to me that Tom Waits is the current singer who most epitomizes the spirit of the original music. Marianne Faithfull is another and she was on the short list, but alas, missed the cut.

Tom Waits

This song is called What Keeps Mankind Alive, another from The Threepenny Opera.

♫ Tom Waits - What Keeps Mankind Alive

Although initially a folk singer, it didn’t take Judy Collins long to start performing “art” songs, theatrical songs, even classical (check out her Wildflowers album for examples of the last).

Judy Collins

On her extraordinarily good album, In My Life, she performed one of Kurt’s songs as well as other songs by the best composers around. The Kurt song is Pirate Jenny, yet another song from The Threepenny Opera. This was chockers with good tunes.

♫ Judy Collins - Pirate Jenny

The most unlikely, and my favorite, version of one of Kurt’s songs is Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) by The Doors. This cropped up on that first album of theirs and it must rank highly in any list of Best First Albums.

The Doors

I assume it was included because Jim Morrison was certainly familiar with whisky bars, although it was Ray Manzarek who suggested it be included on the album. This is a song from Mahagonny and is sung by yet another character called Jenny. I think old Bertie may have had a thing for Jennies.

♫ The Doors - Alabama Song

There have been many versions of September Song, probably the best was Frank Sinatra’s. That’s too obvious a choice for me though, I’m going with Lou Reed.

Lou Reed

This is one that Kurt didn’t collaborate with Bertie. The lyrics were written by Maxwell Anderson. Its first incarnation was by Walter Huston, of all people, in the Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday. They wrote the song for Walter’s limited vocal range. His version actually made the hit parade, but that was in 1938 and I wasn’t around then to remember it. As I said, there have been numerous versions but we only have time for one.

♫ Lou Reed - September Song

Lotte Lenya was born in Austria and, as mentioned above, married Kurt twice. Her mum and dad knew her as Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer, which is a bit of a mouthful so I’m not surprised she changed her name.

Lotte Lenya

She received a mention in both Louis’ and Bobby’s version of Mack the Knife.

Lotte appeared in many of the original versions of Kurt’s and Bertie’s plays as well as other films and plays. In America, she appeared in many Broadway musicals and several films.

Here she performs Surabaya Johnny from Happy Ending which in its initial run, closed after seven performances.

♫ Lotte Lenya - Surabaya Johnny


GRAY MATTERS: Government-Run Health Care

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


I would not live anywhere but the United States (except maybe in an Italian villa). But we could take some lessons from what we patronizingly call the “old world.” Old, after all, usually means they know how to survive and learn. And we’ve yet to learn how an adult nation should act.

For example, we don’t need the barbarous death penalty, especially if we stop the insane easy access to guns. We stop mothers from boarding airplanes with too much baby shampoo, but our Congress refuses to bar people on the no-fly watch list from buying assault rifles.

And if the right-wingers truly believe in limited government, should not our government stay out of a woman’s right to choose abortion and my right to die?

Along those lines, virtually every nation in the old world provides for its citizens access to free or inexpensive health care. But only one reporter covering the hotly fought British parliamentary elections for CNN-World (which is seen by too few Americans) told us, in a fine story, that all three major party leader candidates – with ideologies ranging from left to right - agreed on one thing: The British National Health Service is so popular that in the campaign, it was an untouchable. Indeed it got high praise and support from all the prime minister candidates. Paul Armstrong reported,

“To many Republican politicians [and some Democrats] in the United States, a publicly funded national health system like the NHS is the embodiment of austere, Soviet-era medical care but in the UK, it is viewed as sacrosanct.

“Launched in 1948 by a left-wing Labor government [which replaced the conservative Tories under Winston Churchill], the NHS was created out of a long held ideal that everyone should have access to good health care regardless of wealth.

“More than a half-century on, millions of Britons still enjoy free medical care, from routine consultations on coughs and colds to open heart surgery. Over the years it can boast pioneering breakthroughs from Britain’s first heart transplant in 1968...to the 1988 breast screening program, providing free mammograms to reduce breast cancer in women over 50.”

There are four parts of the National Health Service, for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The scale of the NHS is vast, with thousands of doctors, technicians, nurses and administrative personnel working for the service.

There has been criticism of waiting lists for treatment or elective surgery. But those critics ignore the chaos and the waiting in America’s packed emergency rooms on a weekend or Monday morning. In Britain, as I discovered years ago when I was struck with flu symptoms while covering a story, I could choose from dozens of neighborhood doctors who worked for the NHS. I was treated at no charge. (It was the same for me in Israel and South Africa).

Despite the criticism, the NHS spends $2,300 per capita on health care costs in the U.K., which is far less than the $6,700 in the U.S. And U.S. spending is way more than any of the comprehensive and universal health care systems in the old world. Still, there are 40 million people in the U.S. without health insurance, which is unheard of and would be scandalous in the old world.

Armstrong writes, the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, now prime minister, was effusive in his praise of the NHS, noting on his web site, ”Millions of people are grateful for the care they have received from the NHS – including my own family.” (British conservatives have no ideological relation to American right-wingers. We should remember that the conservative icon Margaret Thatcher, who would not be considered conservative enough in the U.S. today, declined to mess with the NHS).

Perhaps if President Obama had used and learned from his own family’s access to government-run, socialized medicine, we might not have given our health care reforms over to the drug and insurance companies. But it turns out that Obama, unfortunately, is neither a liberal or a socialist and was not as willing as his British counterparts to even consider single-payer health care reforms. A little socialism is okay for the banks, GM and the president’s family but not for us.

In Britain, the Labor Party and the middle-of-the-road Liberal Democrats, who will be part of Cameron’s government, joined in defending and praising the NHS. In the U.S., said Ruth Thornby, a British researcher who studied the American health care system, Republicans are

“worried about rationing by government or an official bureaucrat making decisions about who gets what. (But) bureaucrats within private health insurance companies are making those decisions all the time...”

Indeed, in the U.S., only original Medicare, untainted by private schemes like Medicare Advantage, provides beneficiaries with free choices of doctors, labs and hospital, anywhere in the country. For those of you who consider any socialist system as austere, I’d urge you to browse the colorful and informative website of the NHS.

While the old world has placed its trust and health care systems in the hands of their governments, the reforms just passed by the Congress have been entrusted to private insurance and drug companies, with the hope they will voluntarily comply with the reforms. This despite the fact that the companies are bound by their fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to return as much as possible on their investments.

On May 9, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D, W.V.), scolded the nation’s leading health insurance companies for “gaming” the new law to dodge and weaken it in subtle but important ways. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary, Katherine Sebelius, Rockefeller noted that the law provides that insurance companies are supposed to spend 85 percent of premiums on health care. Rockefeller charged the companies are redefining administrative costs as medical costs and thus not spending more on patient care, as the law intended.

On May 6, CNN reported that large companies, such as Verizon, AT&T, Caterpillar and Deere, were secretly considering dropping health care coverage their employees have had for years. This would mean undermining a crucial Obama promise of the health reform, that beneficiaries could keep the coverage they’ve had. In addition, the companies are balking, as too expensive, that part of the law which provides insurance for employees’ children up to age 26.

If employer-sponsored plans were dropped, it would help the bottom lines of the companies but raise considerably the projected costs of the health care reforms. Representative Henry Waxman (D, CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reacted angrily and demanded internal documents of the companies on their intentions. So far, possible change is on hold.

Similarly, Sebelius’ public pressure forced Anthem Blue Cross and Wellpoint in California to back away from an announced 39 percent increase in premiums. And she criticized Wellpoint for cancelling coverage on women diagnosed with breast cancer, to be prohibited under the new law. Wellpoint denies this.

Surely the companies will keep trying to nibble away at the reforms. If they do, government has little recourse except moral suasion. But the only punishment, tucked into the deep innards of the law, is a paltry $100 fine for each day of a violation. A multi-billion dollar insurance giant will find it more profitable to pay the fine than abide by the law.

Thus, this question for Americans: Who would you trust more with your health care? Government (as in Medicare or the NHS) or your insurance carrier?

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Sad Farewells and Cat Update

category_bug_journal2.gif How many of you have been sad to see the last of your dentist? I was yesterday afternoon.

I'd given him a tough assignment – to make and fit a denture in just four weeks with only another six weeks to make adjustments before I would be leaving Maine. He pulled it off magnificently, but it meant a LOT of visits to his office.

We became friends in that time – the dentist, the hygienist, the assistant, the office manager and I. The visits became social occasions I looked forward to as if it were not the dentist.

Yesterday was our final visit and I was astonished to receive a farewell card with lovely notes from everyone along with a gift card to Starbucks – in case my internet account in Oregon doesn't work out and I'll have to blog from the coffee shop.

I will miss these people a lot. It was hard to say goodbye.

Meanwhile, I'm spending mornings cleaning and polishing the apartment for the new owners. Since I did absolutely nothing of that sort during the four weeks I was packing, I am now up to my ankles in dust bunnies as I clean from the top down.

I'm astonished at how five hours of work – including several short rest periods – tire me. But I have three more days, so it will get done in time for the Monday closing without tiring me too much.

After I wrote yesterday's post, I lay down to rest for a bit and was asleep almost immediately, so deeply that I didn't hear the phone ring right next to me at about 7PM. When I awakened at 9:30PM, Ollie the cat was out from under the bed creeping around the room ready to hide again at the slightest unexpected noise or movement.

He was up and down all night, poking me or walking across me – neither of us slept much - and he threw up twice. I'm pretty sure he just wanted me to be as uncomfortable as he is.

As soon as the sky was light, he crawled under the covers and as far as I can tell, didn't move until I got back from the dentist in the afternoon. He hasn't eaten anything, but I'm not worried about it since he is unlikely to starve himself even if he is unhappy. But like I said, I'm inclined to think he's more pissed off than unhappy, and punishing me for removing him from his home. What a pain in the butt cats can be.

I tried explaining what a well-traveled cat he has become; born in Philadelphia, lived in Greenwich Village, Portland, Maine and now he is moving to Portland, Oregon. He didn't appear to be impressed.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Trey's World


An Empty Apartment

category_bug_journal2.gif It's late afternoon on Wednesday as I write this in an airport hotel, and I'm exhausted. Everything I own in the world is on a truck presumably on its way to Oregon. My feet are killing me - this is the first time I've sat down since 5AM.

The three moving men did an excellent job of emptying out my apartment. They worked non-stop from 8AM until just past noon and it can't be easy carrying heavy objects down a narrow staircase. But no one complained and they had a solution for every problem, including removing doors to get the larger pieces out.

My feet are tired because there was nowhere to sit. So I watched, answered questions and made coffee runs for us all.

Poor Ollie the cat was locked in the bathroom. Of course, he wasn't happy about it and then, THEN I locked him in the bathtub behind the sliding glass door when anyone needed to use the loo. Enough of you are cat owners (or sympathizers) that you know what a stressful day it was – and still is - for Ollie.

When he was released from the bathroom, all his favorite sitting and snoozing places were gone - just bare walls and floors everywhere. His food and water were in the wrong place, and there were no toys in sight. Then he was shoved in a carrier, stuffed in a car only to be let out in a small, strange room that smelled nothing like home. He's still under the hotel bed.

But I'm repeating what I told him last week: suck it up, my furry friend. We're movin' on and there's just this period of a week or ten days you have to get through until we settle down again. Try to do it with some grace.

God, cat's are hard to please.

All this is just filler, a place to put today's Elder Story since I have no useful insights or lessons learned from hanging out with the moving guys except that they work a lot harder than I ever have.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: Linked Through an Autograph Book


Moving Day Stage 1

category_bug_journal2.gif This move to Oregon takes place in two stages. Ollie the cat and I fly to the west coast next Tuesday, 18 May (stage two). Today (stage one), the moving van will be loaded, including the car, so that furniture and household stuff will arrive in Lake Oswego at approximately the same time we do.

Meanwhile, we are renting a car and moving into a hotel until the closing on the Maine sale happens on 17 May.

In this series of posts about the move, many of you, dear readers, have commented about how organized I am. Well, not so much. Last weekend, an email from my brother included this note:

It sounds like you are moving into the camping out phase of moving out: “Now, damnit, why would I pack the can opener already.”

No kidding. It's happened to me with about a dozen items I packed too soon – even, sometimes, when I had made a mental note to leave them out until moving van day. New note to self:

  1. You are old.
  2. Your short-term memory is shot.
  3. Do not rely on mental notes.
  4. Write it down.

I suppose I should write down that note somewhere too.

The biggest mistake is that I have misplaced, lost or packed Ollie's sedative for the plane ride. And it's not even that I have much to remember for that day. I'm shipping everything else from the hotel by overnight express, so there is only me, Ollie and the laptop to keep track of.

I can live without a can opener; Ollie on a 12-hour trip at full consciousness is not something I want to experience – nor, I'm guessing, would other passengers be happy about it. So, another stop by the veterinarian will be squeezed onto the written to-do list.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Women's Body Problems