Entry 1063: Spend It in Good Health … Oh, Right

So according to this article, my mom may be about to get a stimulus check.

I’m kinda surprised that she qualifies, what with her being dead and all, but the U.S. government apparently doesn’t see that as a problem. Apparently, the IRS is sending checks to “all eligible taxpayers who were alive as of Jan. 1, 2021.” Mom died on May 11.

It’s unclear why the government feels it’s a good idea to send stimulus checks to dead people.
This may sound harsh, but, at this point, I’d really prefer that mom not be stimulated in any way. And I’m pretty sure the deceased recipients of these checks will not be stimulating the economy with increased spending.

I don’t know how many departed Americans will be receiving money, but I did some quick (and probably inaccurate) math. In 2018, an average of 7,452 Americans died every day. Now obviously, that average is higher this year due to covid and America’s world-famous daily mass shootings, but, on the other hand, not everyone who dies otherwise qualifies for money. So let’s use the 7,452 number and May 31 as a cut off. That’s 151 days of 7,452 deaths equals a bit over 1.1 million reaper visits. At $1,400 per, that means something like $1.5 billiongrave dollars in stiff stimulation.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But, Mark, if your mom does get a posthumous payment, you have to return the money, right?”

Not necessarily. That was true for the first round of stimulus checks in 2020, when the government sent almost $1.4 billion to dead people. And, according to AARP, it’s still true that “if you received a payment for a deceased person who was not entitled to it, you must return it.” However, the legislation that authorized this round of stimulus payments says that, while those who died in 2020 aren’t qualified to get a check, someone who died in 2021 is.

So mom has met all the qualifications, namely, surviving New Year’s Eve.

I guess the IRS is applying the same logic it uses for dependents. If a child is born in December, you get to claim it as a dependent for the whole year. If someone breathed in 2021, they’re entitled to a 2021 stimulus check. For the IRS, if you stick your toe in the water at the beach, you’ve experienced the whole ocean.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Why would the government intentionally send extra spending money to people who can’t even order from Amazon?”

Well, I’m no economist, but it must make sense to somebody at the IRS. Social Security was immediately notified of mom’s death on May 11 and has since managed to stop its payments, so if the IRS sends mom a check, I have to assume they really want her (or her heirs) to have it. And who am I to argue?

I mean, what am I supposed to do? Send the IRS a Deceased and Desist order?

See you soon.

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Entry 1062: What Could Possibly Go Wrong With This Idea?

I have often written about the stupidity of our elected officials and the idiots who insist on electing them.

But, in fairness, I feel like I should also call your attention to those rare occasions when Congress shows signs of intelligent life.

Take, for example, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who bears an uncanny resemblance to creepy bothPrincipal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer but is somewhat less likely to be eaten by a demon.

I’ve mentioned Gohmert in the past, because he often displays a wonderful knack for outside-the-box thinking, like when he proposed that an oil pipeline was good for wildlife because “…when [caribou] want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline.”

He is a staunch defender of America as well, frequently warning us of various terrorist groups who are attacking us with pregnant women. “[The children] could be raised and coddled as future terrorists,” he has said, “Twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.”

He has also come up with great suggestions for national holidays, like his National Day of Remembrance of Victims of Illegal Immigrants, which not only rolls smoothly off the tongue, but avoids the problem of too many celebrants, unlike a National Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Gun Violence Perpetrated by American Citizens With Legal Automatic Weapons.

Gohmert even suggests new ideas about how Congress itself should operate, like when he nominated Allen West for Speaker of the House even though West had lost his reelection bid in Florida. “Why should the leader of the House of Representatives need to be a representative?” Gohmert seemed to be saying.

And now, finally, Gohmert has focused his brilliant mind on one of humanity’s most important challenges: climate change.

Now, I don’t want to imply that Gohmert, a Representative of Texas, has ties to oil companies. I’m sure he had perfectly good, not personally profitable reasons for voting YES to opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil drilling and barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. It’s just that Louie, as always, has new ideas.

And so, whereas everyone else is bandying around the same old global warming “solutions” such as reducing carbon emissions or developing alternative energy sources, Gohmert is once again on the cutting edge, proposing instead to alter the orbit of the moon.

What’s more, he has taken this idea directly to the two government agencies most likely to be able to implement orbital changes: the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. He asked the associate deputy chief of the former:

“Is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon’s orbit or the Earth’s orbit around the sun? Obviously that would have profound effects on our climate.”

First, let me point out that the “BLM” Gohmert referred to is the Bureau of Land Management, not the Black Lives Matter movement, which clearly can do nothing to alter the moon’s orbit unless it has a way to propel one of its protest signs toward the lunar surface to give the moon a nudge.

Now, getting back to Louie’s idea, you can’t deny that he’s 100% correct. Changing the moon’s orbit around the Earth or, even better, changing the Earth’s orbit around the sun, would undoubtedly have a “profound effect” on our climate, such as probably causing massive tidal waves to come crashing inland and then possibly having that water instantly boil or freeze. But, hey, we won’t know unless we try.

I do have to call Gohmert out on one part of his plan. Obviously, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are not the organizations he should be talking to about changing celestial orbits. No, he should take the matter up with his colleague in Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), who apparently knows some Jews that control space lasers. Louie could just ask Marjorie to tell those Jews to stop using their lasers to cause fires in California and instead, give the moon a little shtupn or two.moon

See you soon.

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Entry 1061: Born in the Blue S.A.

I’m just not sure how much longer this can go on.

Nearly every day some state passes legislation limiting the rights of various groups of its citizens. Could be the right to vote, the right to an abortion, even the right to transition to another gender.

Many of those same states went ballistic when they were told they had to wear masks, but they’re perfectly fine with telling people they have to keep unwanted fetuses or sex parts. And the people passing these laws are the same ones who are always screaming about the government invading our lives.

“You can’t tell us what to do,” they think, “but, by all means, please tell them what to do.”

Us and them.

Well, to me, they’re them. And I don’t like those them. I think the lawmaking them are malevolent manipulators and the them that elected them are morons.

And it’s simply untenable that I have to continue living in the same country as them. Especially now that some of them are revising text books to delete race theory and allowing people to carry handguns in public without permits.

But I don’t think I should be the one who has to move. After all, I didn’t do anything insane like vote for Trump. And, besides, my daughter and granddaughters are here. And my poker game! I don’t want to have to carry a passport just to lose money every other Thursday night.

I’m reasonable, though (unlike them). I know it’s a lot to ask all of them to move. And, anyway, what country would take them?

So, as I have done before, I propose that we should separate in place. Simply put, the United States should become somewhat less united.

As recently as last November, I revealed my carefully thought out plan to divide America into both13 separate nations based loosely on the European Union model. I did that so as to have contiguous areas filled with people who agree with each other.

But now I say, the hell with that; it’s too complicated, especially for them. Let’s just have a Blue States of America and a Red States of America. Even they should be able to figure that out, especially the people whose country would match the color of their necks.

And who cares if all the states in the Blue S.A. don’t connect? Sure, the citizens of the Red States of America (all of whom would, of course, own guns) might shoot down a passenger jet or two for invading their air space on the way from New York to L.A., but wait till they see the reception Red SAers get when they try to see a Broadway show! They will absolutely get mugged by Elmo in Times Square!

elmo2And, by the way, this two-nation idea would not include Florida. As always, I’m rooting for very geographically-specific climate change–let’s call it “local warming”– to entirely flood the place.

See you soon.

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Entry 1060: Death Magazine

In my last post, I wrote about a survey I received from the cemetery where I buried my mother, a process I wrote about in the post before that.

I’ve since discovered that the survey was conducted on behalf of the cemetery by JD Power & Associates, the same company that always shows up in car commercials as having ranked the vehicle being advertised as the top-rated model for something or other. “Ranked number one by JD Power for new car smell,” the ad will proudly announce.

Anyway, JD and his or her associates keep hounding me with reminders to take their friggin’ survey, which I’m not planning to do, since they’re not offering me anything for doing it, not even a chance to get a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a, I dunno, free pinwheel on my mother’s grave.

But I think the cemetery may be done annoying me with its survey. Because now it has annoyed me with an email that has the subject line: “Your Dignity Memorial Magazine.”

Dignity Memorial Magazine is not something I remember subscribing to. (I’d know, because I would have gotten a free Dignity Memorial tote bag.) Nevertheless, I opened the email to discover that it is a publication of “SCI Shared Resources, LLC. The Dignity Memorial® network of funeral and cemetery providers.”

That’s just the kind of messaging you want from a cemetery, isn’t it? In case you’re not grieving enough at having buried a loved one, you can mourn the fact that they’ve been interred by a national conglomerate.

Indeed, SCI Shared Resources is, according to Funeral Director Daily (motto: “Digging up the important news”), one of “four major publicly-traded direct-to-the-consumer funeral home/crematory/cemetery companies” in North America. This raises two important questions:

  1. How would a funeral or cremation not be direct-to-the-consumer? I mean, who exactly deathwould a middle man be, and does he carry a scythe?
  2. Funeral Director Daily? Is there really enough breaking news of interest to funeral directors that it has to be delivered on a daily basis?

Getting back to the direct-to-the-consumer funeral home/crematory/cemetery industry, those four companies have seized most of North America’s burial lands because they can operate their funerals with an economy of scale that your local mom and pop cemetery just can’t compete with. This is why, chances are, mom and pop are buried at a cemetery run by SCI Shared Resources or one of its competitors: StoneMor Partners, Carriage Services, or Park Lawn Corporation.

Apparently my mom and pop are. And so I have unknowingly become a valued customer of SCI Shared Resources by virtue of having recently planted my mother at one of their facilities. They are rewarding me with surveys and this complimentary magazine which, I sincerely hope, does not have an annual swimsuit issue.

The issue I received did, however, contain fascinating articles such as:

  • “11 Myths and the Truth about Veterans Burial Benefits”
  • “24 Things People Said about Prepaid Funeral Plans”
  • “10 Ways to Help a Grieving Child”

All of which made me want to tell them 1 thing they could do with their stupid magazine.

There was one article that seemed like it could be interesting: “Unusual Funeral Requests.” But when I clicked on the link, I couldn’t even read the piece, because I got this message:

“We value your privacy. We and our partners store and/or access information on a device, such as cookies and process personal data, such as unique identifiers and standard information sent by a device for personalised (sic) ads and content, ad and content measurement, and audience insights, as well as to develop and improve products. With your permission we and our partners may use precise geolocation data and identification through device scanning.”

This sounded like it was written by a lawyer (and a British one at that) who I instantly hoped was also a customer, if you get my drift. And I certainly wasn’t going to give these people permission to geolocate me. I was going to have to do without being entertained by unusual funeral requests.

Then I noticed that this particular issue of Dignity Memorial Magazine was the May 2021 edition, which meant that SCI Shared Resources intended to send me additional issues. I clicked “unsubscribe,” because, frankly, I’d rather read Funeral Director Daily. At least in that publication, I can learn about Dying Art Creative Departures, a company that makes caskets coffinsthat look like chocolate bars and Lego blocks.

Fun!

See you soon.

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Entry 1059: Just a Few Questions About Your Burial …

I don’t know about you, but hardly a day goes by without a survey showing up in my email box.

You’d think every company’s products and services would be just about perfect by now, what with all the surveys they send out. Unless, sending the survey is the extent of their efforts: “We want you to know we care about your business enough to ask you what you think, but not enough to actually read your responses.”

I generally ignore all these surveys unless I have a complaint. Then I’m all fired up and ready to tell that company exactly what I think. Except they never seem to ask a question about the specific aspect of their product or service I have the complaint about. “Was your shipment of  paper delivered in a timely manner?” Well, yes, but freakin’ Fedex left it by my garage out in the rain instead of ringing my doorbell. Or else they ask stupid questions like “Did our shoelaces meet your expectations?” Um, sure, but, really, I didn’t expect that much.

Anyway, today I want to tell you about one such customer survey I received. The subject line was, “Your recent experience at Star of David Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Chapel.”

As I mentioned in my last post, I buried my mother recently, and this email arrived exactly a week later, which I guess is the accepted mourning period to allow before you annoy people with questionnaires. It makes sense though; since it’s a Jewish cemetery, they let you finish sitting shiva before sending the survey, and that way you can think about your answers while you’re uncovering your mirrors.*

“Our staff is committed to honoring lives with the highest standard of safety,” the emailemail said, “and strive to provide an exceptional level of care to each family we are privileged to serve. We appreciate the trust and confidence you have placed in us and would be honored if you could let us know how we supported you and your family during this difficult time.”

There’s an awful lot of honoring going on, don’t you think? The “safety” business, I’m assuming, refers to the pandemic, but I’m pretty sure the lives they’re honoring are in no danger of catching anything even if they’re not vaccinated. And regarding them being honored by my taking their survey: I wonder if they’d be just as honored if I thought their support sucked.

I clicked on the link if only to see what sort of questions they would ask. “Was the hole dug to your satisfaction?” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the dirt?” “Did our hearse come with a full tank of gas?”

Well, the first question was:

“Using a 10-point scale, where 1 is Unacceptable, 10 is Outstanding, and 5 is Average, please rate the staff who brought your loved one into our care on the following characteristics.”

Into our care?” They make it sound like they’re paramedics, when they’re kind of just the opposite. And the only two characteristics they were concerned about were professionalism and response time. I couldn’t answer this question because I wasn’t there when mom arrived at their facility, but I’m wondering just how important response time is in their business. Unless the response time is measured in weeks, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, does it? And what would an “average” amount of professionalism be?

Then there was a question about the “clarity of information regarding prices and payment,” which also didn’t quite apply to me since my parents had prepaid everything except the tombstone engraving and death certificates. But judging from the number of items on the itemized bill they sent me anyway, I can’t imagine how there could be any clarity regarding prices and payment. Car leases are less complicated.

They wanted to know what I thought of the “ambiance” of the facilities. Ambiance? Jeez, I wasn’t there for a romantic dinner. If they must know, the funeral home had a distinct funeral home ambiance, meaning it was no place I’d want to spend a lot of time at, even if I was the guest of honor. And the cemetery itself could use some more trees. Actually, it could use any trees. The place didn’t even have mausoleums to provide shade.

And since they asked, I wasn’t thrilled with the funeral and cemetery service because they kept trying to have one. Since I was the only one coming, I didn’t want a service, but they sort of insisted. There was, for instance, no reason to print up programs for a graveside ceremony or set out a dozen folding chairs by the site. The empty seats probably made mom feel unloved. (And, by the way, if there had been attendees, the chairs weren’t socially distanced).

They wanted to know if I would I patronize the Star of David Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Chapel again. Well, no, not if I can help it. I think most people would like to avoid doing business with any cemetery.

Would I recommend the Star of David Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Chapel to a questionfriend? Perhaps, although I can’t imagine it coming up in conversation. “Do you know any good plumbers? How about cemeteries?”

I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s appropriate for companies in this particular line of business to use customer retention tactics like surveys. For one thing, I would hope they don’t have a lot of trouble retaining customers. And, well, I mean, what’s next? A loyalty program? Really, I don’t want to earn a free stay.

See you soon.

*Shiva is a week-long Jewish ritual whereby family members traditionally mourn the passing of a loved one by covering their mirrors, sitting on boxes, and eating large quantities of food. We did not do any of that for my mother because I felt her death ended a longer period of mourning the fact that she had to live her last years with no quality of life because our society does not provide a way to exit gracefully.
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Entry 1058: Bye, Mom

In my last post, I told you how my mom finally managed to die. Now I’ll tell you how I managed to bury her.

Unlike the last post, this one will be kinda funny. Or maybe you’ll think it’s really, really sad.

Fortunately for me, way back in 1994, my father uncharacteristically decided to dabble in real estate and bought cemetery plots for him and my mom. This was in North Lauderdale, Florida, a vast wasteland of strip malls, fast food places, streets the width of the Hudson River, and homes the size of a child’s playhouse.

My dad died in 2005, and the one time we brought my mom to visit him, the cemetery person took us to his site in a cart that they unceremoniously drove over the other graves as if they were off-roading in a Jeep commercial. My wife and I still remember the experience: “Babump, babump.”

Anyway, the morning after mom passed (she died just after midnight), I called the place. They had been contacted by the nursing home and they had already picked up her body. The funeral home guy–Jeffrey was his name–asked me when I would like to schedule the service.

Trying not to sound crass, I explained that no service was necessary, as there was no one I could invite. All of mom’s friends were equally deceased (I assumed) and no family members lived in the area. I did not say that the only reason I was even going to come was that my wife and daughter thought I should.

“So you just want a graveside service?” Jeffrey asked.

“No. No service. No rabbi. It’s just me.”

“Um, okay,” Jeffrey said, and we scheduled a serviceless burial for 1:30 the next day. Then there was a pause in the discussion and I heard some computer keys clicking before Jeffrey continued. “Now I see here that everything was prepaid back in–wow–1994. But we no longer have that model of casket.”

Of course not, I thought. Casket models must change every few years because … why exactly? Are there fashion trends in coffin styles? Is it like car models, where they improve the aerodynamics or update the technology (adding Bluetooth, perhaps)?

“Is there an equivalent model?” I asked, and then, sensing an upsell attempt coming on, I added, “She wouldn’t want something showier than my father’s.” My conversation with Jeffrey concluded with my purchase of $90 worth of death certificates. Then he emailed me a half dozen or so forms to Docusign, which I did after reading them with only slightly more attention to detail than I would an Apple user agreement.

About an hour later, someone named Angelo called. Whereas Jeffrey was in charge of the funeral home, Angelo was in charge of the actual cemetery that was behind the funeral home as if it was a large and uninviting backyard. Angelo wanted to know how many people would be attending the service. “Just me,” I reiterated. Then we discussed the engraving on the headstone. “Do you want it to be similar to your dad’s?” Angelo inquired. I asked him what dad’s marker said and he helpfully emailed me a photo. It was a double-wide, with my dad’s inscription on one side and a blank area on the other.

stone

Evidently, mom and dad would be sharing a headstone. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, mom always slept on the right side.

I emailed Angelo some similarly-worded copy for my mom’s half of the marker. Angelo called again. “So that’s 38 characters at $15 per character. That’s $570, but there’s a $195 processing fee once it goes over $500.”

“Well, hold on,” I said. “I’m a copywriter. I can edit.” Not that I’m particularly cheap, but that processing fee bothered me. However, while I was deciding if I really needed “beloved,” Angelo said he’d cut me a break and we somehow settled on my original draft for $495.

The next day, I took a 7am flight down and drove to the cemetery, which was just as I remembered it from that one time we visited my dad: a virtually treeless, totallypinwheel charmless expanse dotted with flat, gray rectangles. Except for all the pinwheels. There were little pinwheels throughout the cemetery. Because what’s a cemetery without festive pinwheels?*

I met Jeffrey’s assistant who escorted me into a large room where mom’s equivalent model coffin was on display with her modeling it. I had to identify her to ensure that they did not bury the wrong person, which, hopefully, is not a common occurrence. She looked better than the last time I had seen her a couple of weeks earlier, and certainly more alert.

programThen they gave me a swag bag, just like the ones stars get at award shows, but with  “Thank you for your sympathy” cards instead of, you know, Cartier watches. There was also a dozen personalized graveside service programs (“Really,” I said, “it’s just me.”); a large yahrzeit candle (“Yeah, uh, no, I won’t be taking that on the plane.”); and a schedule for lighting the candle through the year 2041, after which I imagine they’re assuming someone would be lighting one for me.**

“I also have this packet of dirt for you,” the assistant said, holding up the small bag. “To put in the grave. It’s from Israel.”

“The grave?”

“No, the dirt.”

I was aware, of course, of the Jewish tradition of tossing dirt on a coffin after it is lowered into the grave. But I didn’t know it was supposed to be imported. Since nobody in my mother’s family going back generations was from Israel or had even visited Israel, I figured that, if I wanted to get my hands dirty, I could use domestic dirt.

Following her instructions, I got into my rental car and trailed the hearse down a path through the cemetery until it stopped at what I guessed from the program to be The Garden of Ruth although, frankly, I think Ruth should ante up for a better landscaper. Two guys were waiting with a cart, onto which they loaded the coffin and rolled it to the grave site. “Babump, babump.”

There were two rows of folding chairs set up (“Really, it’s just me.”), but I stood as they lowered mom into the ground. I took pictures so my wife and daughter would know I attended.

“Do you want to say anything?” they asked me.

I didn’t, but I thought, “Bye, mom, I hope you can finally get some peace.”

See you soon.

*I looked it up when I got home: “First appearing on the graves of children, pinwheels now can be seen on the graves of adults. The continual movement suggests constancy, perhaps of affection. The wind which propels the tiny mills evokes the spirit.” So I guess cemetery pinwheels are a thing, but I’d never seen them at a New York cemetery. I wonder if they act like miniature wind turbines, generating candleelectricity for, like, interior coffin lights.
**A yahrzeit candle burns for a day or so (unless you blow it out because, really, who wants an open flame in the house while you’re sleeping?). It’s supposed to be lit each year on the anniversary of a Jewish person’s death date, except it ends up being a different date every year because the Hebrew calendar doesn’t line up with ours. They also come in handy during power outages.
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Entry 1057: Mortal After All

Back in March of 2016, I did a post called “Mom Can’t Die.”

Well, five years later, she has proven me wrong.

When I wrote that 2016 post, mom was in pain, she kept falling (and breaking various bones), and she was about at the midway point of a steep decline into dementia. But she was still momoldcompetent enough to know she wanted to die before things got worse.

And then things got worse.

Of course they did. Because there is no (legal) way for someone with absolutely no quality of life to decide on a dignified death at a time of their choosing. Unless, in some states, they’re lucky enough to have a terminal illness.

When I published that old post, mom had home aides. Soon after, when it became obvious that the aides couldn’t adequately care for her, I put her into an assisted living place. Three years later, when it became obvious that even they couldn’t take care of her (at least not profitably), they told me to put her into a more hospital-like nursing home. This was all happening in Florida, which was where she lived. I could not move her to Connecticut, which is where I live, because the cost of such facilities in my state are about double what they are down there.

I visited mom soon after she was moved into the nursing home. This was December, 2019. I was booked to visit again the following April, but then, well, you know. Stuff happened in the world. Even if I had flown down, the place wouldn’t have let me visit her.

Meanwhile, mom still couldn’t die. They’d ship her to a hospital whenever she fell, and call me immediately (even if it was the middle of the night) to let me know, as if there was something I was going to do about it at two in the morning from 1,200 miles away. They’d arrange a Facetime call upon request, but it was apparent that mom had no idea what was going on (“Is that a picture?” “Who’s talking?”)

Then two weeks ago, I got a call that they were referring her to a hospice service. The end, while not exactly imminent, was somewhat nearer than it had been. So I got on a plane for the first time since before the pandemic. At the nursing home, they suited me up in full PPE and escorted me into a common area, where mom was one of four or five people distanced socially and even more so mentally.

natgeoMom sat there leafing aimlessly through a National Geographic (a special garbage issue no less), turning pages forward and backward, over and over, as if doing extensive research. I pulled up a chair and tapped her on the shoulder. She looked up; with the plastic spit guard over my face and the blue gown, I must have seemed like an alien to her. I had brought photos of her two great grandchildren (one of whom is brand new), but she was more interested in the CVS label on the envelope the pictures came in. She asked a couple of random questions about the headlines in the Natgeo as she kept turning pages with her skeletal hands.

I tried telling her about her family, but she either couldn’t hear me or couldn’t understand what I was saying. mombeforeI Facetimed my daughter Casey so mom could see her two great granddaughters and we spent several minutes yelling names.

Me: Your new great granddaughter’s name is Charley.
Mom: Farley?
Me: Charley
Casey (holding up the baby): This is Charley, Grandma.
Mom: Farley?
Casey: Close enough.

I stayed there for roughly an hour, during which no one seated in that common area moved so much as an inch. Occasionally, a resident would shuffle through on the way to –well, who knows? This was their lives. They couldn’t die, either.

Eventually, mom just fell asleep there in her wheelchair, and I lifted my plastic shield to kiss her. Then I left. A week and a half later, on May 11 just after midnight, so did she.

Finally.

In the days after, people kept saying “Sorry about your mom.” And so was I. Sorry she outlived her mind. Sorry she had to spend almost a decade being shuffled from hospitals, to rehab places, to nursing homes, all of which had the primary goal of keeping her alive and generating revenue. Sorry she had to live in a constant state of confusion, fear and, I’m guessing, loneliness. Sorry for all the pain and the helplessness.

Sorry, mom. But that’s America.

In my next post, I’ll try to be funny again as I describe the process of burying my mother.

See you soon.

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Entry 1056: Hey, Siri

As I mentioned in my last post, I got a new iPhone recently, and I’ve been having fun with Siri.
For some reason, I had never talked to her much on my old iPhones, but the two of us are very chatty now.

I was shy at first, mostly because my new phone didn’t come with instructions. But then a day later, I got an email from Apple telling me how to do all sorts of cool things with my phone. “To use Siri hands-free,” it told me, “say ‘Hey, Siri.’”

Apple, it seemed, was fully on board with the #metoo movement. It wanted me to keep my hands off Siri.

So with no inappropriate touching of my touch screen, I said, “Hey, Siri.” And there she was, all siri2aswirl, ready to serve, as if I had summoned a genie. My wish was her command. I could ask her anything. But I had just wanted to see if she’d really show up when I called, and now that she had, I had nothing prepared. “Um,” I said, “what’s the weather?”

“It’s currently clear and 48 degrees,” she replied, and continued on to give me the day’s forecast. This was certainly a better response than the one I deserved, which was “Why don’t you look out the freakin’ window, moron?”

I was enchanted.

I tried to think of stuff that Siri could do for me. I had her add some appointments to my calendar, which she accomplished almost flawlessly (she spelled my dog’s name wrong while scheduling a vet appointment–it’s “Riley,” not “Reilly”). I forgave her. I used Siri to send myself a message. Then I had her send me a reply to it. I’ll bet she thought I was really lonely.

I decided to ask her to look up something. “Hey, Siri, who was the 15th President?” She answered immediately, even citing her source. I tried something tougher. “Hey, Siri, how many moons does Jupiter have?” She answered with not just a number but a list of all the moons. She was showing off.

But I was beginning to feel a little guilty for treating Siri like a servant and making her do menial tasks like a 1960s era secretary. I mean, even 30 years ago, when I was creative director of an ad agency and had an actual secretary, I never asked her to get me coffee or anything.

Besides, Siri seemed really smart. She probably had good ideas and strong opinions. “Hey, Siri,” I said, “who was the worst U.S. president?”

But Siri would not take the bait. After all, she didn’t know what my political leanings were (evidently she doesn’t read this blog), so she didn’t want to risk pissing me off with the obvious answer. Instead, she offered some websites that ranked presidents.

sirisingThen I wondered if Siri had any talents. “Hey, Siri,” I said, “sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”

Suddenly Siri turned snarky, perhaps because she somehow knew it wasn’t my birthday. “Sure!” she began enthusiastically. “Absolutely. Ahem. OK, here I go. Ahem. Hang on, let me just clear my…Gosh. Singing is harder than I thought.”

Hmm. Was Siri turning on me? Perhaps I should show an interest in her. Women like when guys do that, don’t they? “Hey, Siri, how old are you?”

“Well, I’m no Spring Chicken. Or Winter Bee. Or Summer Squid, or Autumnal Aardvark…”

Okay, so maybe asking a woman’s age isn’t the best way to be interested. Around this time, I started imagining how much fun the Apple programmers must have had, gathered in a room, anticipating the types of questions idiots like me might ask Siri, and coming up with appropriately sarcastic answers.

I also imagined that, somewhere deep in Apple’s bowels, a mainframe computer was compiling a profile on me based on my conversations with Siri and maybe alerting Homeland Security.

But I had one more question for her: “Hey, Siri, what do you look like?”

“I imagine I probably look like colorful sound waves,” she replied, which is, of course, exactly what she does look like. Except that I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to learn that the denizens of the web apparently have much greater imaginations than Siri does, as demonstrated by the three examples below.

See you soon.

P.S. How does one stop oneself from thanking Siri every time you ask her to do something? I keep doing it, and it’s kind of like applauding at the end of a movie.

siri

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Entry 1055: How Do You Work This Thing?

It seems to me that the more complicated our devices get, the less likely they are to adequately tell you how to use them.

Sometimes the instructions are printed in type that’s about four font sizes smaller than the legal copy in car lease ads. Or else, they come in a 40-page book, only two pages of which are English. Or else they represent the first attempt at translation by a Chinese person who has taken English 101. Or else there are no words at all, just some hieroglyphic-like etchings.

Or else, like the iPhone 12 mini I just received from Verizon, they come with no instructions at all.

Now, I am not the most technologically-adept person on the planet. But neither am I the least. So how can Apple (or Verizon) send out this complex piece of technology without so much as an indication of how to turn it on?

I did not know how to turn on my new phone, and I’d actually owned an iPhone before. I was moving up from an ancient SE, the battery of which had ceased being able to hold a charge for long enough to complete an order from GrubHub. This new gadget did not have a power button where it was supposed to be–on top, where my old phone’s power button was. What was I supposed to do, start indiscriminately pushing buttons until something happened?

I mean, here was this box with nothing in it but the phone, a cable, and a small square pocket phone

containing an even smaller square piece of paper, an Apple logo decal (as if I would put it on my car window to let other drivers know there was an iPhone on board), and a tiny, mysterious doodad that was not identified in any way and could have been a decoder ring for all I knew.

The cable had a familiar iPhone plug on one end but a totally foreign-looking one on the other. To my knowledge, there was nothing in my home into which this could be inserted, although I did search my desktop computer to make sure. And while my PC does have around 20 orifices of varying types and sizes, none would accommodate the cable that came with the phone.

This caused me to seek my wife’s assistance. She is much less reluctant to update her devices than I am, and had acquired her new iPhone a year or so earlier. She told me the cord was a “lightning cable” and that I should ignore it and just use the cable with which I’d been charging my old phone. Out of curiosity, I Googled “lightning cable” and discovered that it needs a USB C port, which I had never heard of and don’t have. In other words, if someone doesn’t happen to have an old iPhone or a newish computer, they have no way of charging their new iPhone unless they take it and its cable out into the rain and get struck by lightning.

Turning my attention to the small square piece of paper, I noticed it was really an 8-page booklet filled with the aforementioned mini mice type. With a magnifying glass and extensive squinting, I determined that it had everything I needed to know about: safety and handling; exposure to radio frequency; avoiding hearing damage; medical device interference; and compliance with the regulations of assorted countries, but nothing about actually using the damn phone. I did discern a URL where I could go to download a manual, and I used my PC to visit immediately, only to discover that I could only download the manual to my iPhone, which didn’t do me much good if I needed a manual to know how to operate my iPhone. It’s kind of like when your internet service goes down and, when you call your ISP, a recording tells you to report the outage on their website.

Then I picked up the little doodad thingie which, upon second viewing, might be a tie clip or perhaps an antenna. How the hell do you include something like that with a new product and provide no explanation whatsoever? I brought it into our kitchen to once again ask my wife for help. “I think it opens something,” she told me, quite unhelpfully. I grabbed a soda while I was there and marched back to my home office, figuring that, at the very least, if the tab broke off the can I might be able to use the doodad to open it.

I now endeavored to transfer all the stuff on my old iPhone to my new iPhone, a procedure for which Verizon had provided step-by-step directions online. This required me to back up the circle2old phone, enter all kinds of pass codes, and then line up one phone’s camera with what appeared to be a circle of swarming blue insects that was playing on the other. I sat there holding the two phones, trying to keep them steady and aligned. “Barbara,” I yelled to my wife, who then appeared in the doorway of my office without masking her annoyance, “how long do I have to stay like this?”

“You can put them down,” she said with an implied hrumph. “You don’t have to hold them.”

Oh.

So I put them down and everything magically moved from one phone to the other like COVID germs between maskless Trump supporters. Then–finally–I was ready to use my new phone and experience all the benefits of Verizon’s 5G network which I knew I would really enjoy because it was one G more than I had before, although I had no idea what gravity had to do with the operation of a smart phone.

But then I was immediately confounded by my new device. “Barbara!” I yelled. “There’s no ‘home’ button!” Apparently, Apple had decided that the home button on my old phone was too simple to use, and eliminated it. Barb showed me the appropriate swipes and soon I knew how to use my new phone, at least to the same extent that I knew how to use my old phone. I even had a brief conversation with Siri.

I can’t yet take my new phone with me anywhere, though, because I’m afraid of damaging it. I had ordered a case with a tempered glass screen protector, but I couldn’t put it on, because it didn’t come with instructions.

I guess I’ll relieve the stress of setting up my new phone by listening to some soothing music. I’ll just plug in my headphones and …

BARBARA–THERE’S NO HEADPHONE JACK?!!!!!

See you soon.

P.S. I looked it up, and evidently the doodad thingie is a “SIM card tool” with which I can remove my phone’s SIM card if I ever suddenly acquire the courage and technical expertise necessary to do anything with the inner workings of the device. Of course, if that ever happens, I’ll have absolutely no idea what I did with the SIM card tool.

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Entry 1054: Miss Me, Stupid?

Not that anyone has asked, but I’ve been posting very irregularly of late, and I thought I’d tell you why.

For ten years, I published my attempts at humor twice a week. In the back of my mind, I was emulating my syndicated newspaper columnist heroes, Dave Barry and, earlier, Art Buchwald, except that nobody was paying me or, for that matter, reading newspapers much anymore.

But suddenly, I seem to have run out of steam. Or the ability to laugh at the world.

The subtitle of this blog is “May I Just Point Out How Stupid that Is.” And I certainly have not run out of stupid things to write about. Quite the opposite: It seems at times that the world has been infected by stupidity just as it has the coronavirus. Except that nobody is offering vaccinations for stupidity, and masks don’t help, especially if you’re too stupid to wear one (or cover your freakin’ nose when you do).

The sheer quantity of stupid is overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begun writing a post about some ridiculous story and, while I’m typing, hear about something even more ridiculous.

I imagine it’s much the same for people who are in the habit of offering hopes and prayers for the families of mass shooting victims. They’ll be just about finished hoping and praying for one group of mourners when someone else goes crazy with an AK-47 which, in this country, he was able to purchase legally.

Stupid.

But now I will no longer be surprised by the stupendous amount of stupidity in the world. Because I have just finished reading a brief and brilliant book called The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.

It was written by a fellow named Carlo M. Cipolla, who is billed as an “economic historian.” He believed that all humans fall into one of four categories, which he defined in economic terms:

  • Helpless: people who take actions that result in their loss and other people’s gain
  • Intelligent: people who take actions that result in their gain and other people’s gain
  • Bandit: people who take actions that result in their gain and other people’s losses
  • Stupid: people who take actions that result in losses to other people while deriving no gain themselves and even possibly incurring losses.

If you’d like a perfect example of the above definition of stupid, consider people who won’t get the covid vaccination. They are hurting society as a whole while also endangering themselves.

Cipolla’s definition of stupid immediately brings to mind an image of a particular type of person. I won’t get into the physical characteristics of that person, other than to say they’re wearing a MAGA cap and, if they’re really stupid, a “Q” t-shirt. And once you envision that stupid person, how can you look at the definitions above and not think of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and their pals as “bandits?”

In fact, I would contend that nearly all Republicans fall into Cipolla’s third and fourth categories: if they’re rich and/or powerful, they’re bandits. All the rest are stupid. Very few, if any, fall into the “intelligent” category.

And here’s the thing: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity was written in 1988 when Ronald Reagan was wrecking our country instead of our current former president. Sure, Republicans have changed since then (they’ve become meaner, I think, and more blatantly hypocritical), but the point is that Cipolla’s laws of human stupidity are constant through the ages, and apply to any group of people, whether it’s America’s Founding Fathers (especially the ones who thought up the Electoral College); the great philosophers of ancient Greece; intellectuals of the Renaissance; or the members of your condo board.

Right now, you may be thinking, “But those were great thinkers (well not my condo board, who are idiots), but the others. How could they be stupid?” Because of one of the Laws of Stupidity: “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.” In other words, a person can be good-looking. They can be a brilliant inventor or good at business or an excellent athlete or a fine artist. And they can still be stupid.

And why am I no longer surprised by the amount of stupidity in the world? Because of Cipolla’s First Law of stupidity:

“Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.”

If you doubt that for a minute, consider your “friends” on Facebook. I’m thinking specifically about the ones who disclose personal information in order to find out which historical figure they most closely resemble or challenge you to name a city in Florida that doesn’t have an “e” in it (hint: it’s really easy, particularly if you live in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota, Ocala, Coral Springs, Marathon or Hollywood).

Now, if you happen to be a bandit, you might be thinking that stupid people are easy targets for your thievery. And you’d be right. Except for Cipolla’s Fourth Rule, which is a warning about trying to deal with stupid people:

“Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.”

In other words, if you try to take advantage of stupid people, it could very well come back to bite you by, for instance, storming the capitol.

If Cipolla was still alive (he passed away in 2000) I think he’d revise his book. Because he didn’t foresee how the internet would amplify stupidity exponentially by allowing the stupid people within a population to connect with each other, and spread stupid ideas, and incite stupid actions.

Or post stuff like that

t
(which, I trust you’ll notice, I just did. Twice. And without even giving it a second thought.) (And I just did it again.)

See you soon.

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