Sister Marcia, the convener

old movies

Marcia.covid shotMy sister Marcia was asking that the family, i.e., my sister Leslie, she, and I – meet online on a regular basis for years. And years.

She wanted to use Skype or some such. As I vaguely recall, I found that platform unnecessarily wonky, and so… I didn’t say No, and I actually downloaded the software. MAYBE we used it once or twice, but I didn’t like it.

But as the saying goes, it takes a pandemic. The three of us have met almost every week for a year on ZOOM. Occasionally, we’ll get guest participants such as my wife or Marcia’s daughter. We pretty much fill two 40-minute slots. (Longer than that and I develop brain fog.)

Currently, she’s working on pricing a headstone for our maternal grandmother Gertrude (Yates) Williams, who died in 1982, and her sister Adenia Yates, who passed in 1966. Why my parents never took care of this is one of those unsolved mysteries.

One of these days, maybe in the summer, we’ll spend some time working on genealogy. Ancestry.com has provided us with approximately one jillion hints of possible connections. Anyone who’s ever spent any appreciable time finding their roots knows that it is a rabbit hole that would have Alice wondering.

Cinema

I may have seen more recent movies. But she has viewed FAR more movies from the last century, especially the 1930s through the 1960s, almost all of them released before she was born. I keep threatening to veg out on TCM or some other channel, but I haven’t done so yet.

So she knows who Barbara Stanwick is. I mean, I do too, but only because she was on the TV series The Big Valley (1965-1969), while she’ll know the performer from classics such as Double Indemnity (1944), but also from the more obscure fare.

For the most part, she knows her performers from the Studio Age of cinema. Of course, she has a pretty uncanny ability to recall things from our childhood, events I’ve long forgotten.

Happy birthday, baby sister.

22 years: Negotiations and love songs

taxes could have been the death of us

Roger & CarolI highly suspect that we’ve managed to stay married 22 years because of Negotiations and Love Songs. It includes a division of turf.

When we’re on ZOOM at an event, we are generally at separate devices. This is a function of having very different computer habits involving when to mute et al. It is also that we often see couples on the same screen and we sometimes have difficulty hearing one or both of them.

Conversely, when we’re watching our Sunday church service on Facebook Live, we generally sit together. This allows us the opportunity to worship together. Back in the olden days – March 2020 and before – she’d be in the congregation, but I would be in the choir loft.

She has bank accounts, as do I. Then we have joint accounts. I certainly don’t fault couples who operate otherwise, but this works for us. I pay for the mortgage, utilities, Internet. She buys groceries, pays for the vehicle, and makes the church contribution.

Some couples share email, but we never could. I may still have a lot of it to go through, but I’ve read them all. She often has stuff unread; we’re talking four digits.

This brings us to taxes. Before we were married, I usually filed a 1040A or even a 1040-RZ (as in easy). I never itemized my deductions. This was codified by a philosophy of a radical Catholic couple I know. The general theory is that you give not for the deduction but because it’s right. The fact that it was EZ was a bonus.

But my wife, who owned rental property before, and when we were first married, filled out a Schedule C. So she’s always done the long-form taxes.

Last year of the century

I remember quite vividly the spring of 2000 since we had gotten married the year before. Not only we filling out the 1040 form, me for the first time, but we had also received a decennial long-form Census and were completing that as well. I will say that the Census info was extremely accurate.

But doing the taxes was causing us… stress, every year. This was particularly true when we must have done something wrong a couple of times and ended up paying penalty and interest. So we ended up hiring someone.

One time, the accountants ALSO got something wrong, and we had to pay more, but they absorbed the penalty and interest. I figured if they’re professionals and muck it up, how should I know? I know there’s TurboTax and the like, but trust me, this is one of those expenses designed to preserve the union.

This year, she asked me which amount goes on the work form for my Social Security, the amount before or after the Medicate expenditure? I don’t know. This suggests the gross before Medicare comes out. But does the Medicare payment and other medical expenses reach the 7.5% threshold for deductibility? (I fell asleep while typing the previous sentence.)

So, as the Paul Simon compilation title goes, Negotiations and Love Songs. Happy anniversary, dear.

Our first Coronaversary, if you will

ersatz experience

coronaversaryA friend of mine asked me, and his other friends, to share their thoughts on the past COVID year. A Coronaversary, if you will. I gave him my off-the-top thoughts, but I decided I’d expand upon that.

First off, I am grateful that my daughter got to travel to the African American History Museum in DC in February 2020. Then the church play she was in, Once On This Island in early March, took place, by which point congregants were refraining from hugging in favor of waving.

And I’m glad I went to the Pine Hills library and picked up seven Marvel movies the afternoon before the lockdown, though I didn’t actually watch them until months later.

Vigil

My father-in-law, about 75 minutes away, was at home, dying from cancer. Just before March 15, one of my brothers-in-law moved in with his parents. We had regular Zoom meetings. (I use Zoom generically; it was a Google thing, I think.)

Early on, my FIL was chatty and engaging. Soon, though, he was fatigued and slept through much of the gatherings. It was supposed to be for 15 minutes a day, but it was always longer, often considerably so.

These went on until April 22, when my FIL died, then for a few days more. My BIL went back to his family. Someone thought it’d be a good idea to have weekly meetings.

These went on OK, for the most part, until George Floyd was murdered on Memorial Day. Then discussions about race, religion, and COVID shutdowns made things… uncomfortable. I alluded to this here. While I’m in regular contact with most of my in-laws, it’s not with one couple, and it ain’t my decision.

School

Starting in mid-March 2020, schools started the arduous task of migrating to remote learning. My wife moved her “office” from the dining room table to the guest room. As a retiree, I had to get used to my wife and daughter being home during the day; my daughter is STILL home. The governor canceled spring break, which was extremely disheartening. 

I’ve noted my loathing of ZOOM school, and my disdain for lost snow days, restated by The Atlantic here.

Fighting COVID

I was appalled by the mixed messaging coming from the White House press conferences. None more so than in early April, when the CDC recommended mask-wearing and 45 said, essentially, “I’m not going to that.” Governors, in TX and FL, among others, were congratulating themselves in May for their success in fighting the virus without closing down. I yelled at the TV, a lot.

The news is rehashing the past year, with projections that we could experience as many as 200,000 dead in the United States. We have 530,000 or so now. In retrospect…

Things I miss

I so want to go to the movies, seeing and hearing people in person reacting to the action on the screen. Virtually all of the films I’ve reviewed in 2021 I saw alone, on TV, or on the computer. [Sigh.]

One of these days, I’ll be overjoyed to sit in an indoor restaurant. Yes, I know I can in Texas right now. [Arrgh!]

More on ZOOM

Theater on ZOOM is not great. It’s a televised play, except it’s too stagey.

ZOOM negates being too busy to go to that second meeting of the evening. You can finish one gathering at 6:20, then go to the loo before meeting #2 at 6:30.

I sort of hate ZOOM. It’s an ersatz experience. I’m almost certainly depressed. I went to a therapist, but it failed because it was on ZOOM instead of in person.

Now, it’s not all bad. I see my sisters, in CA and NC all the time. Watching niece Rebecca Jade perform is a joy. And Bible study actually works well.

Spring is almost here, actual and metaphorically…

Jaquandor’s take.

Lydster: Zoom school sucks!

The ever-educational They Might Be Giants

zoom schoolAs I must have mentioned, my daughter was all primed to go to school in person as late as August 24, 2020. Instead, she got Zoom school this fall, after suffering through it from mid-March 2020 and on. It’s not actually on Zoom, but whatever. And that’s not what they label it.

They call it “remote learning.” Remote: “having very little connection with or relationship to”; that’s about right. On the last Sunday of January, I had five Zoom meetings. Well, almost. The church was on Facebook and one of the meetings was on a Zoom-like platform called Wonder.

Except for church, though, it was people looking at other people located in little rectangles on my computer. Worse, some people STILL haven’t mastered the mute button.

So I feel my daughter’s pain. She has four or five of those every weekday. Some folks, in trying to encourage her… well, didn’t. I’ve occasionally sat in on some of those courses. Despite the best effort of some of her teachers – some of them are preternaturally cheerful! – it was still stultifying after a couple of classes.

Since my wife has also taught remotely off and on, including two weeks in January 2021, I know it is harder emotionally, technologically, and organizationally, especially when she switched back and forth. The one thing she liked about remote learning was the extra 30 minutes of sleep.

The homework helper

It was less true at the beginning of the school year but more true now. I am the homework helper. My assistance with statistics, which I took twice, in college and grad school, is spotty at best. Whereas I’m better with American history because I actually remember the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the 1857 Dred Scott case. (No, I’m NOT that old.)

Still, I occasionally learn things I either forgot or never knew. For instance, everything you need to know about the 11th President appears in James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants. Possibly the most successful one-term chief executive.

Sometimes, I just sit with her to help her keep on task, such as when she works on her Environmental Science. She almost never even asks for my help in her art classes since she knows that it’s not in my wheelhouse.

Too political

For one course, she was supposed to find and describe a poster that addresses social justice. The caveat is that the work is not to be political. If by political, they mean “vote for Bernie” or “X sucks”, then OK.

But it seems that social justice, by its very nature, is at least small-p political. Labor rights, hunger, fighting racism/sexism/homophobia, et al. These all often require political action, allocation of resources. Sure you can buy a meal for someone, but addressing systemic food deserts require a broader action. Or  José Andrés,, at least.

The year 2020: Hugh Downs, because

The Zen of alphabetization

The nail in the coffin of my 2020 recollection after I stick a silver dagger in its chest.

What was the best book you read?

Hugh Downs
Hugh Downs

This Brilliant Darkness by Jeff Sharlet. Probably because I’m briefly mentioned therein.

What did you want and get?

Some semblance of connectivity. Zoom is good for Bible studies, the Dads group at church. Actually, it’s been great for communicating with my sisters. It’s fine for keeping in touch with the choir, but not nearly as good as singing together.

What did you want and not get?

The sense of the creative. I didn’t sing or see a lot of performances or read a lot of books.

What were your favorite films of this year?

This will be different because I didn’t see a lot of films at the cinema. Note these are not the BEST films, necessarily, which is probably Parasite or 1917, but the ones I most enjoyed.

Knives Out 
Just Mercy 

On video:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
Coco 
Thor: Ragnarok 

What did you do on your birthday?

Our church did a performance of Once On This Island the following day, just before the lockdown. So I spent much of the time at the dress rehearsal.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?

Comfortable footwear. These long-sleeved shirts my wife bought from L.L. Bean that help prevent me from getting sunburned.

What kept you sane?

To the degree that is true – and one could argue that – I play music constantly. Compact discs, because I like the tangible. Then every three months, I put the ones I played away because it involves the mental exercise of alphabetization.

Yeah, most of it is already online, but listening to that doesn’t bring me… JOY. I love reading the liner notes – Ricky Fataar is on a 2016 Bonnie Raitt album; Emmylou Harris is everywhere.

And sometimes, I would alternate between listening to a CD and riding the stationary bike for 15 minutes. The CD might be 29 minutes, or 45, or 74. I like the asymmetrical nature of the process.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Chadwick Boseman (RIP), Kobe Bryant (RIP), Lebron James.
Ji-Man Choi – pronounced like Eliot Ness – the pudgy but amazingly athletic first baseman of the Tampa Bay Rays.

There are probably others. But it’s been a long year.

In fact, this is so true that I actually forgot Hugh Downs died in 2020. Of course, he did.  And I mentioned it 

What political issue stirred you the most?

My general belief that we may have already irrevocably destroyed the planet. Democracy in the USA may be unfixable. Oh, and that – surprise! – racism still exists in America.

Who was the best new person you met?

Who meets new people? Actually, one of the best things, in my telephoning exercise, is to reconnect with people I had not talked with in years, such as Janet, Diana, Jeff, Al, Judith, Kim, Maureen…

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020

Sometimes, the workarounds are successful, and sometimes, not so much.

Small Zoom gatherings work. Or they don’t for reasons some of us can recite in our sleep. I’m betting Jeffrey Tobin’s  ZOOM meeting was really boring. Someone failed to mute, so he forgot to turn off the camera.

“Parties” on Zoom I’m most uncomfortable with. If you’re at a real party, you talk for a while, observe for a while, haul empty cups to the kitchen. But online, you’re expected to be “on.”

At one gathering this year with three dozen people, someone asked ME specifically why I hadn’t said anything. It’s mostly because 1) it’s difficult to know when to speak and not talk over people and 2) I didn’t really have anything to say.

Takeout food. Some are great. Pizza, Indian food. I haven’t had Chinese this year, but I imagine it’d be pretty good. But some, from restaurants I love, are lackluster. Italian food is hit or miss, e.g.

Telemedicine, as noted – meh.

Performances – better than nothing, but an ersatz experience. It’s interesting that, because of the pandemic plus the technology, there are MORE opportunities to hear music online than I could possibly take in.

Tell you what, 2021. If you don’t suck as much as 2020 did, my summary about you will be half as long. Deal?

December 36, 2020

Hey, 2021, you’re not starting off very well. Sluggish COVID vaccine distribution.

And such a blatant attempt to steal the election by the Republican party that all living former defense secretaries have condemned  GOP attempts to overturn the election and involve the military.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who I do not like, nevertheless is partly correct in opposing challenging the Electoral College tally. “Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress.”

Newsmax, having sold its soul, said that it has “reviewed the full tape and transcript of [his] call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

It claims “The transcript shows [Trump] pressed the Secretary on serious vote fraud issues in Georgia and Trump never acted improperly.”

Naturally, Newsmax blames the mainstream media for “duplicity” in spreading “false” information. The man said on tape, “I just want to find 11,780 votes” and alternately berated, flattered, begged, and threatened with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims. He is soliciting election fraud, in his increasingly desperate attack on democracy, dammit.