Trump’s tax returns

When I was beginning my career as a tax professional in New York, Leona Helmsley, otherwise known as “the queen of mean,” (who does that remind you of?) was on trial for tax evasion. The government was out to make an example of her. More typically an audit would conclude in a financial settlement, or judgment, and you have to pay maybe a lot of money. But, like Al Capone, they wanted to put her away.

She and her Husband, Harry Helmsley, who was dead by this time, owned the Empire State Building.

The firm I worked for was part of the defense team. Technically, I don’t think that was public, but they were working for the lawyers. I had friends on the engagement. But she still lost.

All I remember is that she deducted everything as a business expense, personal furniture, stuff like that. Just like, it appears, Donald Trump.

The New York Times’ in depth analysis of his tax returns impressed me in the way that reporting of tax issues usually doesn’t. And one revelation regards a property in Westchester County that he lists as an investment on his tax return, which allows him to deduct such business expenses as would be limited or not deductible if it were considered a personal residence.

But, in 2014 Eric Trump told Forbes that he and his brother spent many summers at that property, and at one point took up residence. “It was home base for us for a long, long time,” he said.

And the Trump Organization website describes it as “a retreat for the Trump family.” So, are they treating a personal residence as a business? Like Leona?

Even his businesses seem like hobbies, so maybe he gets confused. Is he even trying to make money? I’m sure he could if he wanted to.

Other things about Leona Helmsley that remind me of Donald Trump:

She stiffed contractors. From her Wikipedia page, “After allegations of non-payment were made by contractors hired to improve Helmsley’s Connecticut home……”

And she famously said, “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes,” just as Trump bragged that not paying taxes, “makes me smart.”

The good news is that he has a lot of debt coming due, and not a lot of cash or stock on hand that he can still sell to pay it.

I would like him to go the way of Leona Helmsley (jail). But I’ll settle for destitution.

We need to work together

When this virus first spread, I was thinking, you can’t just close the world. Economic collapse also ruins lives.

When we did start closing the economy, I was frustrated that we didn’t have an exit strategy. How long will it take? This can’t go on indefinitely.

I’m still frustrated that we don’t have an exit strategy, a plan to get where we want to be and an end date. But to those who still think that the closing of the economy is unwarranted, that we should brave the risk of Covid and keep everything open, for the sake of the economy, I have this to say.

There is no recovery of the economy without controlling the spread of Covid.

Because we can force businesses to close, or we can allow them to open, but we can’t force people to patronize them.

And as long as the virus is out of control, people won’t go to sporting events. They won’t eat inside restaurants or have business meetings face to face or take dance classes and yoga and go to the gym. They’ll even stop going to bars, and weddings (and funerals). They certainly won’t take cruises. Even if the virus wasn’t that big a deal, unless everyone knows that, a surge in cases is going to hurt business.

People don’t want to get Corona. They believe it can be serious, that there could be lasting repercussions, and that they could spread it to someone who is even more vulnerable, most likely someone they know.

Even if they’re wrong, that’s what they think. So they’ll stay home.

For a case in point, look to Sweden. Of all its Nordic neighbors, Sweden was unique in that it decided not to shut everything down. To them, it wasn’t worth the effect on the economy, and now, among their neighbors, they have the most cases and the worst economy.

Covid doesn’t scare you, I get it. I’m not that scared myself. But when you don’t wear a mask, you scare other people. And then their fears are realized with a spike, and maybe someone they know gets sick, and they change their behavior and the economy suffers. It’s not an unreasonable or unexpected reaction. It’s logical. These are smart people.

See, unfortunately (or fortunately) there are still more smart people than stupid people. So, if you care about the economy, practice behaviors that will get the smart people supporting the economy again.

We need them. Smart people serve a purpose too. We need to work with them.

Baby Donald may be right

The latest news is that antibodies fade. This doesn’t mean that immunity fades, because T-cells may still act quickly to tackle a reinfection. But it’s harder to test for the T-cells. The difference between T-cells and antibodies is that antibodies attack the virus the minute it shows up, while T-cells attack once the virus invades a cell, but it would still be at the early stages of reinfection.

So, although we don’t know, it’s likely that there is less risk to a population that already recovered. But we don’t know who those people are, if they didn’t get tested within a relatively small window of time.

And if antibodies fade quickly then it also casts doubt on whether a vaccine will provide lasting protection. Does the vaccine promote a T cell response or just an antibody response? – I don’t know.

Since we failed so miserably in the US to test timely and sufficiently, our infection rate could be way understated.  I have a co-worker who tested positive, for example, for an active infection in March with symptoms. She just got an antibody test and it was negative. I’ve also got two other co-workers who were sick with Covid like symptoms in February and got tested for antibodies in June. I was dying to know whether they had had it, but even though the results were both negative, it apparently doesn’t mean anything.

February may seem early to think that it was already in Georgia, but I heard a story from a friend who has a friend who was in the ICU in January, in Atlanta, with an unknown respiratory illness. Many of his co-workers were sick at that time, but he was the only one in the ICU. When you’re in the ICU, and they don’t know what you have, they apparently keep samples of your blood. They tested these samples recently and the results were positive for Covid. This is what I heard. If it’s true, I don’t know why it isn’t big news that this thing was in Georgia in January, but it’s not impossible.

My daughter tested positive for antibodies while everyone else in the family was negative. We assumed she had it before she came home from school, which would explain why no one else had it, but if her antibodies likely would have faded by now, maybe she had it more recently, and the rest of us had also had it, just less recently.

So the problem is, if we don’t know who’s had it, we can’t know when we have herd immunity, or even individual immunity. We can’t know when it’s safe to go about our business, or even who doesn’t need a vaccine, and if the protection won’t even last, what’s a vaccine good for? (sing it with me, “absolutely nothin’!”)

It may be that the only way we’re ever going to know that we’re safe again is when this thing just magically disappears on its own, like Donald Trump said it would, or said he hoped it would, cause all he can do is hope. He’s only the President. But he might end up right about this. It may at some point just go away, because so many people have had it that people just stop getting it.

But we can’t predict when that will be. We just have to wait, although, the more we open up, the faster we’ll get there.

All we know for sure is that the dead won’t get it again.

Hate crime.

Suppose that I’m a guy struggling through life and my girlfriend breaks up with me because I’m possessive and domineering, and physically abusive. Suppose I stalk her, and she gets a restraining order, and I stew in my own juices about it until she starts dating someone else. And then I kill him.

That’s fucked up. I may have killed a good man, who was going to be better to her than I ever was. He didn’t deserve to die. He had family and friends that loved him, not just my ex, and they will never completely get over it. It’s an unfair situation, to say the least.

There would hopefully be consequences for me.

Now, imagine instead, that I am irrational in a different way. Maybe I hate LGBTQIA+. Or I’m ok with the Lesbians, but the guys make me sick to my stomach, and I kill someone, maybe a transsexual woman. I heard yesterday, at a protest for black trans lives, that average life expectancy of a transsexual woman is 35. It’s not true, but they are at increased risk, so this isn’t that unrealistic a scenario, unfortunately, which we should do something about.

Or, maybe I think that black people are animals, even though I’m actually the animal. It could be like that Jewel song, Pieces of You. I hate them because they are pieces of me.

Am I actually lashing out at myself? Is it self-hate that makes me kill people? Probably.

While one situation might be more common than another (I don’t know which), they’re all still dead.

These crimes deserve a response that is sufficient to protect the public from me, to discourage others from doing what I did, to teach others that it was wrong and why, maybe even to teach me, if I’m teachable, so I can express regret, and maybe teach someone else, and not make the same mistakes in my next life, if I have one. But at the very least, I can’t be free to go around killing people.

If the consequences are right for that kind of crime, then what does labeling it as a hate crime add?

Recent events (and also not recent), outrage us, as they should. Police and their wannabees have been killing black people, usually getting away with it, successfully arguing, for example, that even though they were the aggressor, in the end, they “stood their ground” in self-defense.

Making the punishment harsher, with hate crime legislation, for those who are found guilty, does nothing if they’re not found guilty. And if the consequences for the guilty are already commensurate with the crime, then what does labeling it a hate crime do? Should I get off easier because I killed my ex, or her boyfriend?

I think hate crime legislation misses the point. We support it because we want the punishment to be harsher for crimes that we consider more abhorrent. Maybe killing a man because he is different, because I hate him, is more abhorrent than killing a woman because I need her and still love her. But how much different? How much more pain have I put people in? Can anything we do bring any of them back?

It distracts us from what we should be focusing on which is to make the world a better place, to implement solutions we need to protect people going forward, to make better police, to protect black people, women, LGBTQIA+ and everyone else, including men who happen to be victims. And also to end discrimination in general and provide opportunities for people to pursue happiness, earn and contribute to society.

As much as we want to see someone suffer for this, does it serve our purposes to become the bad guy, to act out of hate, and anger, like they did, to become less human, to treat the person as the thing they did, as if we can destroy it, by destroying him?

By acting instead with a goal in mind, we can model the behavior that we want from others. We can set an example for good, and while we’re at it leave room for error. What if you’re wrong? What if I didn’t do it? What if I’m mentally ill, and that’s why I did it? What if I don’t seem to have the capability to understand? What of co-conspirators, those who didn’t provide me the resources I needed to grow up, who allowed me easy access to guns, who bullied me when I was young, or abused me. Not to make excuses. I’m not suggesting that anyone gets off. If we do what we have to do to protect ourselves, the punishment will be bad enough. We don’t have to be extra cruel. And we don’t have to belittle crimes that aren’t motivated by hate when they create the same pain.

Black Votes Matter

And in this case, I think we can say that all votes matter.

Because whether you don’t vote, as is often the case with young people, or can’t, as is too often the case with black people, you don’t matter. Politicians on the trail won’t champion your issues. This is why Social Security is still around, despite oft heard expectations that we can’t rely on it, because older people are known to vote.

But it’s not easy if you have to work on a Tuesday and then have to wait in line for hours. Turnout is negated when machines undercount because your precinct gets the old ones, and when electronic machines are designed to be hacked, and people are purged from the rolls without even being told, and without due process, or even with due process, like when we disenfranchise felons.

When we take away what is, by definition, the essence of a democracy, the vote, for any reason, even when someone has committed a crime against, “the state,” we are allowing systemic racists, clinging to power, a path to do what they have tried to do ever since slavery was abolished, and freed black men were suddenly granted the vote (women didn’t have it yet), which is to take it away again. Voting should not be considered a privilege. When we say “white privilege” we’re really talking about rights. Privileges can be taken away. Rights should not. But white people, not always, but more often than black people, enjoy the rights guaranteed by our laws, including, but not limited to, voting. We call it white privilege, but rights ought not be vulnerable to the whims of power, as if they were privileges.

They are guaranteed by the highest laws of our land, to everyone. And everyone should enjoy them.

After the voting rights act was passed in 1965, which outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes intended to keep black people from voting, we saw the growth of a drug war, with disproportionate felony convictions for black and latino men, often for simple possession, crimes that white people would get away with. Around the same time, states started to pass laws that denied convicts their right to vote. The idea that if you commit a serious enough crime against society, you forfeit your right to participate in democracy was not so widespread prior to this. It seems like common sense, but is it?

Next thing we knew 6,106,327 people lost their right to vote (as of 2016 according to the Felony disenfranchisement in the United States Wikipedia page). And prison populations exploded. And the convict population, many of whom wrongly or unfairly convicted, others convicted of non-violent crimes, and still others forced to stay in longer than public safety should require, due to mandatory sentencing, are relegated back to slavery. Prison work forces are allowed to be put to work for free under the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, unless you were duly convicted of a crime. It doesn’t even say “felony.” Now that’s a loophole.

But putting the return of slavery aside, that’s a topic for another post, why even deny a felon the right to vote? Is there not the hope that they would someday reintegrate into society? Don’t we want to keep them engaged at least in one small, important way? Were they not born here? Are they not Americans (like it or not?) The prison population is large now, but is it so large that we have to fear that they would elect one of their own, a criminal, to run the country? We can do that without them, and we have.

If they ever get that large that they help to decide an election, then maybe they should. These are the ones, after all, guilty or not, who have arguably been failed by society. Who better to offer the perspective necessary to formulate a solution?

Some states are moving towards the reinstatement of voting rights once time is served. It’s a trend, and that’s good, though it’s got it’s administrative and financial obstacles, just like the old poll taxes. And even if it didn’t, it’s not enough.

Of all the candidates that were running for the democratic nomination this year, Bernie Sanders was the only one who openly supported the right to vote while in prison, as do I. That’s one of the reasons I voted for him. I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but this issue is important. Mass incarceration has disproportionately denied the vote to citizens of color. Whether that was the goal, or not, doesn’t matter, cause that was the effect. Denying voters goes against everything we should be.

As it now stands, there is an incentive for Republicans, quite frankly, to imprison black people. They know that the vast majority of black people vote democrat (something like 80%). They, therefore, don’t even have to be racist to support discriminatory policies, just partisan. But suddenly you’ve criminalized the color or a person’s skin and denied them recourse through the ballot box.

And then, adding insult to injury, the prison populations that can’t vote count towards the number of representatives those outside the prison are allocated, because representation is based on population, even those who aren’t allowed to vote.

This is like the infamous 3/5th compromise, which people often mis-characterize to suggest that slaves were considered 3/5th of a person. Slaves weren’t considered people at all. The point of the 3/5th compromise was to give the white voters, who lived in slave states, a proportionate number of representatives based on a head count that included each slave as 3/5th of a person. It gave whites in slave states more representation than those in free states. The slaves had no representation.

And now we do that with felons, who are also sometimes, as we can see, returned to slavery, only we count them as an entire person for purposes of the representation given to those who might just as well still be their oppressors.

Bullshit. If the number of congressional and electoral college representatives are going to include prison populations, and others who are disenfranchised, then they should all have the vote.

States can fix this (Maine and Vermont already allow prisoners to vote). But it would be better to fix the 14th amendment to say that in no case shall anyone born in the United States, or naturalized as a citizen, be denied their right to vote. Some might want to keep the exception for treason, but I say why? If you’ve got enough traitors to turn an election, then you’ve effectively got revolution, so what’s the difference? Why give anyone a loophole? Next thing you know, someone will broaden the definition of treason, if you were a member of the communist party for example, or the black panthers, or antifa (which isn’t even an organization), or BLM. I say accuse whoever you want of treason, but let them vote. The vote is not what we have to fear from traitors. What we have to fear from traitors is that they steal elections, by, among other things, disenfranchising people who aren’t going to vote their way. Those are the real traitors. And they’ve been getting away with it.

Preparing for Portability

Thank the GODS for the old reliability of paper. And that I happen to have a pad and pen with me even though I hardly ever use it. I took a short bike ride this morning, ending up at my favorite writing haunt for coffee and a bagel and some words. Just as I boot up my computer, it decides to update windows, which is, coincidentally, also when I want to do something with it.
“Don’t turn off your PC,” it says (why would I?)
“This will take a while,” it says.
I need to ditch this entry level windows laptop and get myself another chromebook. They don’t take so long to update.
Anyone want a computer?
That’s what I should do when I want to get rid of something, give it to my readers. They deserve it. If family or friends want my giveaways, they should read my blog. I mean, what’s in it for me, right? I want readers.
And I don’t want to sell second hand stuff, I already have one job and my second job is writing. The difference between my two jobs is that I pay to do the second one. I pay for a domain name, I pay internet fees, and now I propose to pay my readers. Maybe it will always be like that. But what I get in return is more valuable than money: self-awareness and attention (look at me!) and the immortality of the internet.
Another reason to give stuff away: I am purging. I am on a kick to become portable by the time I retire. I started purging things yesterday. I want to be so light as to be able to move without it feeling like an inconvenience. I want to rent furnished apartments for less than my mortgage. I want to live places where we might not need a car even, and can rent one only when we need it. We could live well, if we have the money, rent nice cars, and nice apartments and eat at expensive restaurants. But we won’t be maintaining two households, or paying indefinitely for storage. This won’t be easy. There might be too many things I just can’t bear to throw away. But I’ve got years until retirement, so we’ll see. I’ve heard that this is liberating.
This isn’t new. The Swedish do it, and call it the “death purge”. After they retire, they start getting rid of stuff so that their kids won’t have to deal with it when they die. Why not prepare for death that way? After all, isn’t the crossover from this life to the next the ultimate in portability? All you can take with you is who you are. Might as well prepare yourself.
I have been thinking a lot about death lately. People we know will almost certainly outlive us. What do we want them to say about us? He lived fully while he was here? That would be good. He enjoyed life? Good. He was a responsible man. OK. He was normal. hmm.
I guess it doesn’t matter what they say. It only matters if I think it it is a reflection of what I really am. Once I’m dead, I won’t care. But I care now, if it’s true.

I want to live fully.
I was telling a co-worker that I have a brick with my name on it outside the company museum, which I bought to support the museum, but also so that after I was gone, people could see that and say, “Andy Glasser was here” (that’s what it says). She suggested that that people would say, “I knew that guy. He was kind of funny.” to which I added, “too bad that he died,” and she laughed.
Time will pass some more and I will have to face death, probably, unless I don’t see it coming. But already, to some degree, I am facing it. I am within range. If I get old enough, I will have to start thinking that I don’t have that much longer. At that point, how will I feel about leaving people behind? I don’t want them to think that I was not content to die whenever it was my time. I want them to think that I was done with this life, and it was time to leave. I want them to think that I rid myself of baggage, that life was complete. I really do think we keep going. I don’t believe in death. But I can’t be sure.
Space is infinite, why not life itself? This is what I believe in, infinity, not finity. We always existed and always will. There is no beginning and no ending and no such thing as non-existence, only infinity in all directions, forward, backwards, large and small. I know that it seems impossible to think that there was no beginning, but no more impossible than to think that there was ever nothing. What is nothing? Nothing can’t exist, by definition.
I think I might start referring to death as portability. It’s really just all about getting rid of everything you don’t need, whether you want to or not.

Maybe They Choose Us

I’ve been playing the drums since I was in the 2nd grade. I was proud to be the youngest ever to be in the elementary school orchestra, under George Scott. Usually you didn’t get in there until 3rd grade. Since the elementary school orchestra was cut later on, I may still have that record. We would play all kinds of music during the year, and then at the end of the year we would alternate years between music from My Fair Lady, and the Sound of Music.  Those were the only songs on which we played harmonies. I got to play each of those twice. 

I could have been a great drummer. I know it because I have my moments, even now, and I know that if I kept at this from early on, those moments would have become the norm.

But I doubted whether music was my calling. I was interested in acting, and writing and photography and politics and math. Could I change the world by playing the drums? Probably not. Maybe that made it selfish.

But now I see that I could have been a great drummer and it would not have interfered with being just as mediocre as I ultimately became at all of those other things. Yes, I had my doubts, but maybe we don’t choose our callings. Maybe they choose us, and we just have to go with it.

2nd grade. I’ve always been a drummer. If that’s not destiny, what is?

And I don’t procrastinate it so much. I didn’t pursue it because neighbors stopped me from practicing, not because I wasn’t motivated. Even now, while I hesitate to exercise, or write, or work, or read, I don’t hesitate to go down into my basement sanctuary and hit the skins.  

I don’t have a lot of time though.  So there’s that.

Yeah. Maybe I should have been a drummer.  Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I’m a natural.  

A place of my own

Four days in and I’m getting used to it. It feels almost normal. I think I even have the top floor to myself again. And by that I mean it would be the second time I thought I had it. Because the last time, people showed up at about 12:15 AM ringing the bell and knocking on the door downstairs. Woke me up, though I pretended it didn’t. I’m not going down there in my pajamas to tell someone why I can’t let them in, or to explain to them how to use the lockbox, because they can’t follow instructions. I was conflicted about leaving them out there in the cold all night, but I don’t know who’s supposed to be staying here and who isn’t. They got in eventually. There’s a long term resident here, Patrick, who I haven’t met, but I was told by the host, Alexis, who I also haven’t met, that he could help out if I needed something. So, I left it to Patrick and he must have caught on at some point, or they figured something out because they all came up to the second floor, which I had thought I was going to have to myself.

Then the next night, they were hanging out talking and laughing at 3:30 in the morning, waking me up again. It was one person in particular who was louder than the rest. There’s always the one who isn’t aware of the quiet.

The upside is that I didn’t worry about disturbing them when I was getting ready in the morning. And I knew I’d have no competition for the bathroom, because they weren’t going to get up that early.

They’ve checked out now and I never even saw them.

So, I was seduced by the affordability of renting a room in a house, in Pittsburgh, “where no one lives,” (the listing said), and I accepted this as truth for a minute, during which time I felt the need to grab this great deal before it disappeared. No one lives here, except the other renters and the long term resident, Patrick, but those are details.

There were other reasons I was able to convince myself that I’d have the entire house to myself. The other rooms were “off limits,” they said. If there were people in them, wouldn’t that be obvious? Quiet time was 10PM, “because it is a residential neighborhood,” not because you could disturb other guests (like the other guests disturbed me). On the other hand, that there was “absolutely no cooking in the kitchen after 10PM.” that should have been a flag. Why else care? if I was the only one using the house.

I checked the listing again.

“Lot’s of privacy.”

“Residential neighborhood.”.

“No cooking after 10.”

“This is one of four rooms in this house that I host.”

Missed that the first time. Oops.

Hey, it’s fine. I have my own room. That’s more than I have at home.

There’s value in doing things the hard way, anyway, like traveling in coach, for example, or taking shorter showers, because there’s only one bathroom, or packing your own lunch, or waiting for everyone’s favorite show to come out on Netflix before you watch it, or writing without a desk. First world difficulties, I know, but still, it matters, because people can have it way too easy, and that’s even what they think they want!

People aren’t just looking for an easy way to lose weight, they’re looking for an easy way to do everything. But this expectation that anything should be easy inhibits progress. I suppose it can help to have a quiet place to think, a good cup of coffee, or something to eat, but when you get absolutely everything you think you need to set the stage for creativity, or productivity or focus, then you end up expecting that the work will be easy too. And nothing you really want is easy to get. Truth. So you might as well stop expecting that anything you do is going to make the work easier.

You might as well do everything a harder way. You might as well just get used to it.

And if you’re like me, soft, then even baby steps could make the difference between having loads of unfulfilled potential to brag about, and actually doing something.

So, this has been good for me. I had a lot of goals for this week off by myself, killing vacation that was otherwise going to expire. Bound to feel a little bit of underachievement, but I’ve been productive. I have written three blog posts (whatever, it’s something), worked on Spanish, translating two paragraphs of a book I’m reading, Todo va a estar bien, By Ricardo Silva Romero, a Colombian. 233 of 224 pages to go. I’ve seen Pittsburgh (or not), walked a lot for exercise (or not) and tambien visité a mi hija when she was available. That’s why I chose to come here, to spend some time with my daughter before she graduates next month, when I will return one last time, to Pittsburgh, and then never again (well, who  knows).

It’s been good. I’m sad it’s almost over.

Seems like yesterday we were dropping her off here, and yet I’m still surprised at how the week has flown by. 

When You’re Smiling

I inadvertently admitted that I self identify as unhappy. I went out on a  limb and shared a poem on facebook that I had written recently.

I figured that the safety of poetry, is that people won’t really understand it, so you can be honest.

But when you say things like your bucket list includes only happiness, it’s probably not so hard to figure out that you don’t think you have it yet.

And then people are concerned about you. Or sad for you. Such a sad poem. No. It actually felt good to express it.

I want to say that depression isn’t always so serious. Not to belittle it. It can be. And if someone tells you they are depressed, it should be taken seriously, because no one wants to burden people with that, so if they’re telling you, it might have already risen to a serious level. But assuming one doesn’t wait for that, slips it in a poem for example, by accident, I would make a distinction between any old minor chronic depression like I live with and that which rises to the level of despair. I am not in despair. Hardly ever. Probably never.

There is a lot about my life that I really like and appreciate and recognize. Family. Friends. Hobbies:, music, photography, and drink (he he). I make good money. I know people who make more, I can’t retire whenever I want to, and I wouldn’t mind that, but I’m not naive. I make better than most people. And I don’t hate my job. I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t paid but if I ever complain about it, it’s only because I’m spoiled.

I’m just not always happy with myself. I want to be able to show off what I haven’t been able to do, but believe that I can. I want purpose.

And I don’t always know what to do about it. I’m kind of like, lost a little.

But what is happiness? Do you know that when people self-identify as happy that can be very unreliable? They could be fooling themselves. They may not realize how happy they could be. It’s all relative to their own expectations. We don’t really have objective standards.

So when I desire this, I may not fully understand how elusive it is to achieve something you can’t define. It’s Impossible!

Am I expecting it every second of the day? Yes! Is it a solid state of being that never changes? No.

I’m in Pittsburgh. Using vacation that would expire if I didn’t take it. Came here alone. This is why I’m posting more than usual. I’m on a writer’s retreat. My daughter is here, going to school, so we visit and when she’s busy, I’m on my own. She’s repeating to her friends that I am on a writer’s retreat, which they think is cool, but I have to qualify that it is self-constructed. I want to see if I still can write. Because I haven’t been. I have other goals too, work on Spanish if I have a chance. Walk around the city. Maybe sight-see, eat some good food. I meant to bring drumsticks so that I could work on my chops a bit, on a pillow. But I forgot.

I rented a room through Airbnb, in a house that I share with people I don’t know. Last night a guest showed up at 12:15AM and rang the doorbell and knocked on the door. Some issue, I guess. I ignored them. I felt bad, but how do I know who is supposed to be staying here or not? He or she got in eventually without my help, and I couldn’t sleep until then.

My room has no desk. It’s not particularly conducive for writing. I think that I would be more productive if I spent more money to make it easier, but that’s spoiled thinking. It wouldn’t. My expectations that writing can be made easy by a desk in a room – well, easier maybe. But if I had that, I’d probably be so comfortable I’d just watch Netflix and get depressed about it. It’s an excuse. Writing isn’t easy. Spanish isn’t easy. No way around it. Might as well just do it the hard way.

So, I’ve been working amid distraction at Starbucks and the University of Pittsburgh library, and worrying that I won’t get anywhere. Today I found a nice spot at Crazy Mocha in Squirrel Hill (the neighborhood I’ve planted myself in). It’s quiet and relatively empty and I have myself a cozy corner. It’s starting to work. It’s nice to have some time on your own to figure stuff out. And here is something that I figured out. Vague goals like “happiness” don’t get you anywhere.

You know that song, “when you’re smiling, when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you…”?  It popped into my head, like an epiphany! I downloaded it. Because I can. Louie Armstrong sang it. Also Regis Philbin. I really want to  hear that version, but it’s only on Amazon Unlimited, which I don’t subscribe to. Darnit. I bet it’s good.   

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I want to smile more.

That’s an achievable goal. It may even be easy. I already smile a lot, I just deny that it represents  happiness.  But what else is happiness? It is a moment by moment thing. I know some of you have figured this out already. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME!

You can even fake it, and the thing is when the whole world smiles with you, then it’s contagious back, and suddenly you’re not faking it anymore.

I can do this. Watch.

Our Child

So when I say, “I am disappointed in my country,” it’s not unpatriotic. It’s the kind of thing I would say to a child that I love when he or she does something wrong. I wouldn’t say, “I hate you, you ungrateful piece of shit.” I would say, “You should do better.” (although I did once call two of my kids ungrateful pieces of shit)

Then there are those parents that think their child can do no wrong, who yell at you or your own kids because we didn’t let the entitled runt get his or her way. This is the parent who believes everything his or her child says. 

If you scold their child because the child was over at your house and clearly disrespected you, that parent says you are a bully. They teach their own child that he or she is entitled, and always right.  Hardly anyone defends that kind of parenting.  

But we’re not supposed to be honest about our own country even when it does wrong. People actually suggest that we should not teach the truth in school if it makes our country look bad.  

What kind of an adult would you (do you) raise when you are blind to the truth?  One that is fair? No. One that is empathetic or even sympathetic? No. One that is open minded? No. One that is non-judgmental? Definitely not.  

One that is the best? Not even that. Believing that you are the best when you are not, is a sure path to mediocrity.