Archive for February, 2017

U. S. Capitol

Friday, February 24th, 2017

The first congressional district of Michigan has a new congressperson, Jack Bergman. I began to receive an e-newsletter from his office shortly after he was sworn in. In the first one, I saw, among other things, a “survey” which seemed biased in favor of right wing issues. So I printed out the newsletter, and in the white space left on the front and back, I wrote, with pen and ink, a response to that survey, suggesting that it wouldn’t gauge the true sentiment of Congressman Bergman’s constituency. This was put in a paper envelope and mailed to Washington. No response.

The second e-newsletter I received talked about the Affordable Care Act, which I am passionate about. Again, I penned and mailed my thoughts. Again no reply… until this morning.

It was a little after 10:00, and I had just finished giving Franco his medicine, food, and water. I was slicing some onions for one of my favorite breakfasts; taters and eggs, when the phone rang. The caller id said, “U. S. Capitol.”

The caller asked if this was Ted. Yes it was. He then identified himself as Gabe Hisem from Congressman Bergman’s office in Washington. I turned off the burner and sat down at the table. Gabe was responding to my letter!

He said he appreciated my letter and wondered if there were any issues I’d like to discuss with their office. Hoo Boy, yes there were. I started with the survey. I told him I had experience with surveys during my professional life at the university, and that the survey they published seemed designed to reinforce a right wing agenda. He explained the survey was a carry-over from Congressman Bergman’s predecessor, Dan Benishek. I thought it looked familiar 🙂

Next we talked about a town hall meeting in the copper country. Gabe said their office was aware we were interested in a town hall meeting, and that they are doing their best to schedule one in the near future. I pressed him, but that was the most I was able to get.

“However,” he said, “there are two upcoming phone townhalls planned for next month.” My ears perked up. March 7th and 30th at 7:00 pm the congressman’s office will host a conference call format where constituents can call in and express their views directly. Gabe asked me for my name and phone number, and said I’d be contacted as the dates grew nearer with the phone number to dial and code so I could participate. Score!

We also talked extensively about the Affordable Care Act. I requested and received contact information from this young man, who is a resident of the Traverse City area, BTW. If you’d like to call and express your views and/or request a slot in the town hall meetings in March, dial (202) 225-4735. Anyone should be able to help you, but when I call next, I’ll ask for Gabe. He explained that 11-1 is usually their busiest time, and that Fridays are usually quietest. There are times when all 4 lines are busy, though, so don’t give up if you receive a busy signal.

We may not make an impact on the thinking of our new congressman, but at least he won’t be able to say he isn’t hearing anything from his constituents. When I was in high school I remember learning how a representative democracy is supposed to work. Occasionally, it appears that it does.

Clenched Teeth

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Alice and I made a get-away trip to Chicago last week. We stayed downtown within walking distance of the Chicago Art Institute for 3 nights. This is approximately the same time of year we went last time, and it really works out well for us. The art institute is never empty, but it is far less crowded this time of the year, and especially so during the week. We got there early enough that if we knew exactly where we wanted to go, we could have a substantial amount of time all alone in some of the galleries.

I really enjoy these trips to the art museum. Steve Jobs said you should try, “…to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then bring those things into what you’re doing.” The Chicago Art Institute is a good place to expose yourself to the best things humans have done.

As I wandered around trying to absorb everything, I found my shoulders getting tight and my teeth clenching. There is so much, and so deep, that after a while my brain goes into overload. That said, I often find that the things I remember best from the visit are from the times when I’m just on the edge of exhaustion.

Besides visiting the art institute, it is good for us to visit a major metropolitan area now and then. The diversity of people, lifestyles, food, clothing, and habits are refreshing. We live in a small enough community that we all get to know each other pretty well, and the surprises are limited. Back in Chicago, I was walking towards the back of the museum gift shop when John Lennon’s “Imagine” came on the shop’s sound system. I was grooving to it as I was walking when I saw one of the clerks dancing to the music. I smiled and struck up a conversation and learned she was born in Scotland, and raised in Uganda and Kenya before coming to the US. Her use of the language was excellent, and she was very knowledgeable about her topics. It made me grateful I’d stopped and smiled and said hello.

We are so fortunate to be able to live in a place where we can stretch out and cherish the natural world, but after only a 7 hour drive, engage with one of the world’s great cities. And now that we are retired we have the time to do it now and then. I’m already thinking about what I’d like to see next time.

Good Joints

Monday, February 6th, 2017

About a week ago, I stopped postponing a trip I’ve been wanting to make, got the bus ticket online, cajoled my surprised wife into dropping me off at Michigan Tech at 10:30 pm, and settled in on a very cold bench in a Plexiglas shelter on campus. The bus was scheduled to leave at 11:02 pm, so I had plenty of time to sit and think about things.

A young male walked up to the shelter after I was there for a few minutes, and asked me if this was the right place for the bus, and what time I thought it might arrive. He was smoking a cigarette while we talked. After the pleasantries, he asked me if I’d watch his duffel bag for a few minutes. I said sure and he walked away. He was gone for quite a while. I was thinking I might like to walk around a bit myself, but I had to stay and watch his luggage for him.

He did come back in plenty of time for the bus. My efforts to engage him in a conversation led to fairly short answers. He had a cigarette going most of the time we sat together. His speech was quiet and slurred enough that I had to listen carefully to be sure I understood what he was saying. He sat on the bench next to me, got out his smart phone, and scrolled around silently while we waited. I did glance over once and looked at his face. He had the look of someone that has smoked a lot, and I doubt he was 20 years old. Since it is a habit of mine to look for stories, I spun one for this young man.

The story I made up was this young man wanted to be cool and starting to smoke when he was young. He quickly and firmly became addicted. There were probably other drugs in his repertoire. He looked lithe and slender, but his posture indicated to me that he did not exercise methodically.

As someone in his mid 60s who has become limited physically due to bad knees, I secretly envied the young joints this young man possessed. I really wished I could have had a conversation with him about choices he was making, but in the couple of minutes left before the bus came, I decided not to start anything. If he would have listened to me, I’d have said a few things:

“I firmly believe your body is your most important possession. And just like any piece of equipment, it needs good care if it is going to last. You have your whole life ahead of you, are an adult, and the decisions you make today will ripple through the rest of your life. Especially decisions that might result in addiction.

Be skeptical of any bad habits you observe in other people that can lead to addiction. Make an honest assessment of your potential for addiction, and the higher the potential, the more careful you should be.

On the other side of that coin, look around at your friends for examples of positive habits. While not as addictive as some chemicals, good habits will serve you well once you get them under your belt. Here are a few to chew on:

eat good food,
drink lots of water,
read and/or experience something that challenges you every day,
cultivate friendships with people you admire, and be a good friend to these folks,
get enough sleep to keep yourself healthy,
make being active outdoors an important part of your life,
choose your life-mate carefully, and cherish that person,
establish an exercise regimen that both keeps you fit and looking good.”

Not very exciting I’ll admit, but if you make an effort to lift yourself up instead of corroding those good joints, yours might just last longer than mine.