Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Chinese Mah Jongg

Apparently, there's American Mah Jongg, presided over by Jewish ladies in Florida (according to my teacher), and there's Chinese Mah Jongg, taught to me this afternoon by a more-than-an-acquaintance; she's a reporter who covered January 8th and beyond and she's married to the professor who taught the small class I took the semester before.

We run into one another at lectures and plays and events; it's one of the wonderful, small town, advantages of our community. She's fairly reserved, as reporters go, but the same cannot be said for her as an instructor in this ancient tile game.

"You CAN'T do that!" 

"Write it down if you can't remember it but REMEMBER IT!" 

"It's character, not crack.  That's offensive... like someone's butt...."

It was almost worse when she looked around our table of 4 newbies and, smiling wickedly, wondered "Who has the deal?"  

I ran through the options - who won the last hand, in which direction does the deal pass, could I hide under the table and wait for someone else to answer?

And someone else did answer, and then I knew what to do with the rolled dice and how many tiles to grab at a time.  I felt pretty good about that.  I think it's the kind of muscle memory part of the game that allows for a rehash of the previous hand; it doesn't require thinking once you've played for a while.

Feeling fairly sanguine, I stretched and then was brought back to reality. After noticing that we were flashing our tiles as we drew them from the wall (don't ask... just go with the flow), our teacher gave a demonstration of dragging a tile across the table. Then, she showed us how to cup the tile in our little fists, only opening them when our hands were close to our chests.

It seems there are style points in this game.

Actually, I know that there are some points, because our teacher was called to consult at other tables during the course of the three hours we were gathered in the Himmel Park Library's meeting room.
"Does she have enough points to...."   I didn't hear the end of the question, but the beginning proved what Scarlett had been saying throughout the games: "We still have lots to learn about this game."

American Mah Jongg is won by matching the tiles in your hand to the winning combinations sold to you - on This Year's Card - by the National Maj Jongg League.  It costs $8; which also gives you membership in the League itself.  Much of the game revolves around the strategy of choosing the hand you think you'll make.

Chinese Mah Jongg is like rummy - groups of three or four (and one group of two) which match in sequence or exactitude of suit and number.  There are honor cards, winds and flowers just like in the American version; I'm not sure why they are important.

I think that's what Scarlett had in mind when she reminded me that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was.

I don't know why she'd think that.

I won all but two of the games we played.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Brenda Starr regaled me with her tale of woe over locally grown tomatoes and kale this morning. She'd done her part of the project.  She traveled and observed and inquired and then she stopped and thought and created analyses and opinions which she then turned into prose.

Publishing that prose as a series or a section or a quick-let's-tell-that-story-before-someone-else-scoops-us happens after meetings.  And it's in the meetings that egos and power often trump reason and sense.  It's in those meetings that individual differences become magnified.  Decisions, direction, and actions fall by the wayside.

I went to the inaugural meeting of an Advisory Board last week, and was able to share my own sad story.  We were to be an adjunct to the Board of Directors, but the distinctions were no where to be found.  The initial prospectus had requirements which those of us around the table would be unable to meet, but that (to me, seemingly insurmountable problem) was left un-addressed.

Both Brenda Starr and I had fallen victim to the same sad tale.  The meeting had become its own reason for being.  There were available ears, so words were spoken.  The words were interesting and often quite profound, but they bore no relationship to the issues at hand.

Content was sacrificed.  Attention was prized.

"Perhaps we should meet monthly," someone suggested at the table around which I sat.  As my stomach clenched and my fists pounded my thighs, I tried mightily to control myself.  Twelve of these events a year would surely push me over the edge of sanity.  I love the organization and support its goals, but I have friends I don't see 12 times a year.  And when I see them, we actually do something.

Surely there could be a better use of our time. Was it really necessary to gather together and share in person?  I could envision such a scenario, but we aren't there, yet.  We have no focus, no plan.  We have desire and commitment.  Somehow, the two must meld.  I'm just not sure that meetings are the answer.

Purple Passion had invited me to serve; and she was sharing my pain as we sat and accomplished nothing.  Brilliant ideas were tossed out; no plans were made to follow through.  We have no structure.  We have no designated leader.  We have no agenda.  Our presence would satisfy the accreditors for whom, I think, our group was created.  But I have no interest in having my name attached to a masthead; if I'm involved, I want to be involved.

If ever there were a need for a Mission Statement and a copy of Robert's Rules of Order, this was the place.  Oh yes, denizens, this was the place.

Purple Passion, reading my mind, suggested the creation of a Goal Statement, a Proclamation of Our Purpose, and I, not missing a beat, agreed and volunteered to write it with her.  We've written together before, we told the others, and her departure for Maine next week was not a problem since we'd be doing the work on-line.

There was no vote, no formal discussion, but we took the nodding of heads to be agreement.

Over dinner, we agreed that neither of us would sit through that again.  Our sessions would begin and end at specific times.  We would have an agenda and come to a formal consensus before moving on to the next item.  Once decided, items would not be subject to further discussion... as they had been, repeatedly, at the meeting we just left.

You know what I mean, don't you?  As you're packing up your briefcase after concluding (you thought),  someone reopens a discussion, and then everyone is sitting down again, rehashing and wondering, and then all that was done is undone.  I felt like a fool, standing in the corner with my stuff hanging from my fingers and my shoulders but I was not taking my seat again.   We were done. We had assignments.  What more was there to say?

I was reminded, at that moment, of an email exchange with Little Cuter.
Have you EVER been to a meeting which was worthwhile? she wondered, plaintively.
My answer was snarky, but true.
Yes, sweetie, I have.  I ran them.  

Friday, April 24, 2015


I remember conversations beginning in 5th or 6th grade, though it might have been in Junior High school. We were just starting to realize that we were sentient beings, with opinions that mattered to others as well as to ourselves.  We began to debate the issues affecting the world around us.

First came Mets vs Yankees.  Would we stick with the old, established, winning team or would we shift our allegiances to the newly created Metropolitans?  Our teacher was absent, the principal stood in for her, and everyone was afraid.  Could we voice an opinion in front of the most important (and only) man on the faculty?

There was the euthanasia debate held in French class (please don't ask me why... I do remember Miss Hanson wondering why we wanted to talk about Youth in Asia until we explained it to her) where our lack of facility with the language made emphasis more important than content.  After all, we could all say "Mon Dieu!"

The automation debate resonates with me to this day.  I remember the conflict clearly; friends' parents were being replaced by machines.  Our town was a comfortable mix of blue and white collar, homeowners who had fled to the suburbs after the end of  WWII.  It was racially homogenous; being Jewish was different enough.  The pain in the voices of the children of the newly unemployed was palpable.  For the first time I had an inkling that these conversations had real world consequences.

I remember the argument about robots.  Would they be competent?  Would they be reliable?  Would they take over the world?  The Terminator movies were decades from creation; we had only War of the Worlds to frighten us.  Still, I remember a classmate standing in front of the room, arguing that we couldn't trust them the way we could trust a human worker.

And, I remember the response from the other side - you may not like it, but it's coming anyway. Change is hard.  Progress makes people uncomfortable.  That's too bad..... deal with it.

All this came back to me this afternoon as TBG drove Uncle Beemer and me up to Marana for lunch. The road was poorly paved, one lane in each direction, with neither sidewalks nor crosswalks.  The foliage came right to the edge of the gravelly shoulder; that shoulder was five or six feet wide in most places.  There were saguaros and cholla and prickly pear cacti lining the way.  The houses were single story, secured by fence posts and No Trespassing signs but without small metal warnings about security systems and off-site surveillance.

It's Tucson as it was when we moved here, just before the modernization began.

Now, our simple intersection from the neighborhood to the main road involves crossing 6 lanes of traffic.  The median strip is planted with yucca and cacti and public art.  The pavement is black and glossy and smooth as glass.  The curbstones are high and smooth and the sidewalk is inviting to the streams of walkers who have discovered it. It's fun to drive up and down the hills without bouncing around on cracks and crevices... but it's as generic as any main thoroughfare in any town in the USA.
I miss my two lanes, my gravel shoulder, the random wildflower bushes which popped up without consideration of sight lines or horticultural planning.  The chaos reminded me that I was on the edge of the desert, a feral place which allowed humans only if they were willing to make sacrifices.

There are no sacrifices necessary any longer.  There are warning signs for approaching stop lights. There are left turn lanes. There is a designated right turn only lane for our neighborhood, which TBG has dubbed his own personal piece of the landscape.  My car doesn't get caught in the cracks in the pavement, nor does it fall into potholes.  It just glides along effortlessly, ignorant of the fact that two years ago, this was a different scene.

It's faster.  It's modern.  It's crisp and clean and well-maintained.  I know that there are parts of town which would love to have all this modernization.... and I wish them well.

I wish I had my old, dusty, unkempt, Western atmosphere once again.

(sorry this is late... I inadvertently scheduled it for 6pm...)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Our New TV Has Issues

Our television died.  There was no doubt about it - the picture faded in from the edges and then vanished, replaced by a blue dot and then nothingness.

We called the guy who helps us with things like these, and he came right over.  He and TBG discussed features and measured heights and widths and then measured again.  We went to Best Buy on-line and found the television he was recommending for $500 less than he was charging.

We bought it, arranged for delivery, and today men and machine converged in my living room.

One on a ladder, attaching and combining and reattaching cables to components of various capabilities, the other coiling discards and directing the cabling.  For a while, TBG and I sat on the couch, but we drifted away when it became clear that the language being spoken was unintellligible to us.  Random strings of letters were agreed to without question; we were clearly out of our league.

Fifteen minutes after the delivery men departed, our new 60" Samsung SmartTV was up and running. The next half hour was spent adjusting the picture and changing passwords and explaining.  At one point there were 5 remote controllers on the coffee table.  By the end of the installation, we were down to 2... and 1 if all we want to do is watch cable programming.

There is a small and lovely device which I admired, but which was consigned to the unnecessary bag despite my protests.  I didn't care that much about it, once I convinced them to rename the HDMI icons to reflect what they were controlling.  And really, denizens, I don't care that much about that, either.

As an aside, I wondered about boosting the wi-fi signal to the bedrooms on the other side of the house.  Sure, I wanted him to do it... now??? .... why not... and soon thereafter we were the proud owners of a newly named network, with a simple to remember but hard for an outsider to deduce password, and 100% connectivity in the guest rooms.

If I'm going to be an enticing venue for children and grandchildren, it behooves me to be appropriately wired.

While all the setting up was happening, many features were turned on or off.  We don't have a camera so the Motion Sensor was unnecessary.  We're not looking for privacy locks or V-chip protections. But I was intrigued by the Voice Activation feature.

"You mean I could turn on the tv by talking to it?!?!"

Yes, it turns out that I can.  It also turns out that that feature requires the television to be listening to everything that is said in my living room at all times, even when the tv isn't on, in order for it to be responsive when I say the magic words.

"Somebody somewhere is capable of listening to you at any time of the day or night.  Do you know if they are recording and saving this data?"

Those were the issues Dave the AV Guy raised, and I had to agree; I gave up that feature because it was too creepy.

I don't want my tv listening to me.

No, I do not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day, Redux

First published on April 21, 2009
Reprinted annually.... because I like this holiday... a lot!
Come back tomorrow for a new post.

I like Earth Day. I was there at its creation, after all.

It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Initially, it was a touchy-feely alternative to the harsher realities of the anti-Vietnam War protests. You wanted to do something, but war was such an uncomfortable subject and arguing against it made your parents wonder why they were spending tuition dollars while you were telling the lawfully elected President of the United States of America that you knew more than he did. With your picture in the crowd on the front page of the NY Times. At 18 years of age, no less. But planting trees? Recycling newspaper? Not littering? And all this in service to Mother Earth. Who could be aggravated about supporting Mother Earth?

Earth Day had teach-in's. They were more fun than sit-in's, which invariably involved police and disciplinary action. They were less fun than be-in's, which owed more to Timothy Leary and The Grateful Dead than to anything political or practical. Teach-in's were earnest and had hand-outs and statistics and pictures of desolate landscapes ravaged by the cruelty of man. There was science and legislation and outrage and lots of tree give-aways.

Earth Day had no mandatory family gatherings. It required no gift giving, no card sending. You went outside and did something - cleaned a playground, weeded a median strip, planted one of those free trees. You felt good because you were doing good.

Now there is Earth Week and "We're greener than you are" tv networks Were this still 1970, there would be protests about the idea being "co-opted by 'the man'". Instead, Sheryl Crow is designing reuseable grocery bags for Whole Foods and Wal-Mart is selling them next to the discounted paper towels.

And Mother Earth is grateful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New Beginnings

A lot of the people in my life are starting anew these days.  Mostly by choice, some by chance, they all are embracing the novelty with smiles on their faces.  

How rare is that?

Jesse, he of the magic scissors, is no longer cutting hair only in Tucson.  Three weeks out of four, he's in San Diego, starting a new chapter in a new salon.  Nogales to Tucson to San Diego may not seem like a formidable journey, but leaving home is leaving home, no matter how old you are or how many miles your new car must travel.  

A new car, a new living space, a new love of his life - he's not overwhelmed, he's reveling in it all.

Amster has established a new firm with an old friend.  Their new offices are within the confines of offices owned by other old friends.  Her former receptionist has ended up there, too.  Her name is on the letterhead, her phone is ringing off the hook, she's flying to California and North Carolina on business - and she's sporting the biggest smile I've ever seen on her face.

Mr. 9 is playing on his first, organized, basketball team in his first, organized, basketball league. He arrived an hour early for the first of his two games, so that he could warm up.  He ran throughout the hiatus between games, ran full court press drills, scored 4 points, and ate five bowls of salad before diving into the wings at dinner.  It's all new and wonderful, and it's feeding his physical appetites in a way which leaves him grinning from ear to ear, too.

Big Cuter is expanding his fledgling business across the Bay, and he, too, is enjoying the ride.  He's exhausted and exhilarated, learning about himself and about other as his plan expands.  There's a lightheartedness in his voice that warms the cockles of his mother's heart.

Princess Myrtle left her job on the Left Coast for Paris and then Cambridge.  We caught up with her for dinner in San Francisco last weekend, where we met her new boyfriend.  She's starting a new career, living in another new city, facing an exciting but uncertain future... and she's all smiles.

Am I old enough that all this novelty exhausts me?  Just a little, I think.

I played maj jongg in a new league this morning; does that count?

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Snippet - Words Matter

In the gym this morning, earbuds out so I could talk to a friend, I heard this:
"ATTENTION: There is a male staff in the women's locker room"
Take a minute.... think synonymously.... okay, move on.

Was my mind in the gutter, as I imagined G'ma would say?

Would it be worth going back there just to see if it were true?

Was I being too picky and looking for any excuse to stop exercising?

I rejected them all .... decided to pat myself on the back for listening carefully..... and moved on to reverse leg curls.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Geococcyx californianus

 We had a visitor yesterday.
It began by tapping on the glass panel of the back door last night.
TBG heard it on his midnight saunter to the 'fridge.
He ignored it.  
"Who wants to see what's out in the desert in the middle of the night?  It's dark and creepy."

I heard it the next afternoon. 
It was not a gentle sound.  
No, denizens, it was quite imperious.
TBG laughed, told me he'd heard the same thing the night before, and wondered what I thought it might be.  I looked up and saw a tail running across the deck.


 We share their habitat, but rarely encounter them.
I've seen two or three in the nine years I've been sitting at this desk, watching the fauna go by.
This afternoon made up for all my yearning. 
This one was here for a serious visit.

I followed it to the kitchen windows, where I thought to take this video:
no sound - safe to play at work
It's 57 seconds of progressively less jumpy images,
and yes, that is a lizard in its beak.

The more I looked at it, the creepier it became.
It's prehistoric.
It's sharp and pointy.
Those feet are menacing.
Here, look at it closer, still:
The crest blew in the wind.
It nimbly skipped onto the pony wall when it grew tired of being the subject of my photos.
I chose not to follow it outside.
I seem to prefer my wildlife with a protective shield between us.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

C'mon, AARP

TBG and I laughed when the AARP spam began arriving in our mailboxes.  We were in our 40's; AARP membership seemed like a cruel joke played on us by rapacious lobbyists, seeking greater numbers and financial backing.

Then, he came closer to turning 65.  He began to examine his insurance options.  He was beyond confused.  I refused to help him; I am younger and didn't want to be bothered.  Yes, my social work background might have prepared me to analyze the situation, but what it mostly prepared me for was being on hold.  Large bureaucracies are not user friendly.  Their policies change mercurially and with no apparent rhyme or reason.  When my turn comes, I'll pay attention.  This time, it was on him.

The information he received gave him a 3 month window.  He applied before his birthday.  His Medicare card came 45 days after his birthday.  Finding a human at the other end of the Medicare Hot Line was a challenge, but it was his challenge. I watched from the couch, and I smiled.  Welcome to my world, sweetie.  He was uninsured for that overlap period.  It was scary.

He needed supplemental plans, as well, and for that we had a stack of advertising materials that was nearly two feet tall.  It accumulated until it began to topple.  It turned into two piles. He finally tackled it, scratched his head, felt overwhelmed, asked Fast Eddie what he'd done when he applied, and ended up in the office of an advisor.

She asked for no money; there must have been a piece of the policy he chose which returned to her. No one would spend her days immersed in these things for free.  She recommended Humana, through AARP.

Yes, we would have to join.  We did.  We didn't get a free backpack or water bottle.  We did get a subscription to a paper magazine, which will create more recycling.  We got large white envelopes with fat books of regulations and caveats and What We Cover and, more important, What We Don't Cover.

There were no forms on perforated sheets at the back of the book.

After a visit to a San Francisco orthopedist who does not contract with insurers, it was on us to file for reimbursement.  The absence of those forms was a problem.

Coincidentally, AARP/Humana called to speak to him.  I answered the phone; she wouldn't talk to me.  I took her number, he called her back, she informed him that there was a website which would answer all his questions.  He asked for my assistance in connecting.

Assuming that it would be simple, since it's designed for a demographic which did not grow up with the technology, I logged on in a ten minute window of opportunity before I had to leave the house.


I chose a username for him.  All sorts of red type appeared.  I read it.  I had the requisite number of letters and numbers, I didn't use any odd characters, I was compliant.  Still, the site would not accept my input.  Swallowing deeply, taking a very big calming breath, I dialed the Help Line.

I listened to two long advertisements in which I had no interest before the Press One for... options began.  I entered the identifying information the robo-voice required, was connected to a representative, repeated that information once again, and was told that I was not an authorized adjunct to TBG's account.

I explained that I didn't want any information.  I just wanted to sign him up... because what I really wanted was a claims form.  It didn't matter.  They will send the required paperwork in 7-10 days.  I'm not holding my breath.

I hung up and tried the website again.  Continued frustration sent me to the tech desk...  I thought.  Turns out I had to go throught he entire commercials, identification, Press One for... rigmarole all over again.  I found Randall, who assured me that he didn't write the code.  I went over what I'd entered, and he suggested that I include a capital letter.

No where in the instructions is capitalization mentioned.

I capitalized all the letters, and failed once again.

Randall said there had to be at least one upper case and one lower case letter in the username.  Again, there was no mention of this on the website.  He had no explanation for that.  He suggested that I use TBG's email address as his username.  I try not to do this, for security purposes, but by this time I was willing to do anything so that I could leave the house and go to the gym.

The email, insecure as it is, went through.  He was signed up on the MyAARPMedicarePlans site.

I opened the site, expecting to find a link to FORMS somewhere near the toolbar at the top of the page.  No such luck.  I opened Get Forms and Resources and found ways to put myself in his personal life, by getting information about his bills and claims, found a form for ETF payments of his monthly bills, but found nothing about submitting a claim.

I went through Plan and Benefits and Forms and Resources and Claims and then I found Order Materials.  At the very end of that last link was a button labeled Claims Envelope.  I clicked it, the site updated, and it told me that the materials would be mailed in 7-10 days.

All I wanted was a form I could print on my computer.  I want to file the claim.  I want to be reimbursed for the out of network doctor visit.  I don't want to identify myself over and over again.  I don't want to wait for snail mail to deliver an envelope.

And then there's that envelope..... will it come with instructions?  Will it include a form?  It says envelope.  I can't get an answer from AARP because I am not authorized.  This isn't a personal question; it's a process issue.  It's the kind of question a social worker would normally ask a provider. It's the kind of question that should have a very simple answer.

Were I a calmer person, I'd continue to deal with this.  Since I am not, I've tossed it back to TBG.  He's willing to wait for the papers to arrive, and I'm happy to have shifted this issue over to his side of the desk. But the aggravation persists.  I imagine Daddoooooo or G'ma dealing with this.  I imagine someone with limited English or competency dealing with this.  I wonder why a website for older adults is so difficult to navigate.

I'm wondering if I should have stuck to my guns and never joined AARP.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Exploratorium

I love that.
I love the simplicity and the complexity.
I love the questions.
I love laughing while I'm wondering.

The fact that Feynman was in a math class at City College with Daddooooo 
(or so the story goes...) 
and scored 100% on an exam the rest of the class failed, thus ruining the curve, 
only adds to the joy.

That's kind of the point of The Exploratorium.  
Artess is delighted that we enjoyed ourselves; 
she's been involved with the place since our kids were teeny.  
The fact that my boys were enjoying themselves even as adults
was exactly what the creators of this new, wonderful, waterfront space had in mind.

There's something for everyone inside the repurposed piers.  
There's art from cutlery
(yes, those are spoons) 
on the walls as you wait to purchase tickets.
Or, if you have a connected young adult in your midst, you can buy the tickets over your phone.
It was funny watching his expression change as I reminded him that two of us were seniors.
"I keep forgetting that you're old," was what he said.
I think that's a good thing.

The exhibits are interactive.
Big Cuter smoothed then spiraled the sand in a very satisfying way.
The girl on the other dial was using a flatter edge, but was equally mesmerized.

The exhibits challenge your perceptions and explain the world in exuberant ways.
We stood in front of this contraption for quite some time
It doesn't seem possible, does it?
The explanation comes when you press the red STOP button.
It's welded together.
Brother, if you are reading this please consider creating one for me.  
You are the best tinkerer I know.
In fact,there's a tinkering lab which looked like a fabulous place to while away a cloudy afternoon. 

Many of the old favorites still exist.
The line to try the gyro-chair was filled with giggling 4th graders; the apron clad docent would dissect a cow's eye on Wednesday; the pendulum-cum-spirograph would be available at noon. 

I was glad to see that FlapJilly will get to enjoy some of the same things her Mommy did when she was a little girl. 

As we sat in the world's most comfortable rocking chairs, I allowed that fantasy to wash over me. That's another thing which hasn't changed about The Exploratorium - the many comfortable resting places for grown-ups who are watching little ones learn.

It's a very thoughtful space.
It's an expensive place, too.... 
but we felt as if we'd gotten our money's worth within the first 15 minutes.  
It's not often that I can type that.


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