Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Meanwhile, in Spanish class… welcome to high school in the year of the Coronavirus

This past Monday, my sister sent this photo of my 15 year old niece with the caption “Sophia in Spanish class”.  Welcome to school during the pandemic.  I felt sorry for Soph, but happy for her too—how would she complete the school year without a computer and the internet?   Anyway, hang in there Sophia… I’m proud of you honey.

(By the way, notice those long legs?  I told you this kid was tall!)

Anyway, it got me to thinking about something my friend & old classmate Pen said to me recently:  we were talking about our school days, and she said “I wish our school had offered sign language in place of (or besides) Spanish.  I think it would’ve proved more useful.”

I can’t remember if I responded to that, but yes I very much agree.  Then it got me to thinking… what useful things DID I learn in high school?  In kindergarten I learned how to print my name, in first & second grade to read & write.  Third thru sixth, basic math skills & spelling.  

But junior high and high school?  Hmm… a couple years of algebra and a year of geometry which now pretty much escape me.  Three years of Spanish I can recuerda un poco (remember a little).  The first 6 or 7 lines of Hamlet’s Soliloquy. 

What else?  OH WAIT, I KNOW.   Nerd smile

My senior year, I took a couple business courses, including a typing class.  I remember the teacher walking up & down the rows saying “Speed & accuracy, speed & accuracy… both will be expected of a good secretary.”  I had ZERO intentions of ever becoming a secretary (I know it sounds sexist now, but 41 years ago that was still considered women’s work).  But I still enjoyed the class immensely.

It was also proving to be very useful.  I had begun doing some short story writing my senior year, which my former English teacher Mrs. Fox would read & give her opinions on.  I liked giving her typewritten pages, courtesy of that typing class & Miss Legal (our school’s librarian) who let me use her electric typewriter in her office.

Christmas day, 1978.  Looking at my ‘big Christmas present’, an electric typewriter!  (I was really surprised, these things were expensive.)  Meanwhile, Dad tells ‘Mither’ they did right

It just occurred to me, I don’t suppose they teach typing in high school anymore… most kids are probably adept at using a computer keyboard fairly early on.

Well, young people sure weren’t when I took my first computer class in college. 

Of course computers weren’t anything like today, they were just ‘dummy green monitors’ and big, klunky keyboards.  Our instructor informed us that before tackling operating systems or programming, we’d be learning how to use WordStar, a word processing tool to create a document.  He instructed us to begin typing a page of sample text from our workbooks.

As most of the other students began hunting & pecking the keys, I began CLACKETY CLACKING away like there was no tomorrow.  (My old typing skills were once around 65 words per minute.)  I didn’t realize the racket I was making in that quiet lab until our instructor came up beside my chair and said “Douglas.”  

When I stopped and looked up, he said “This class is for beginners, have you worked on a computer before?”  I said no sir.  He said “You put me in mind of the college student in that Disney movie, ‘The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes’.  Okay, carry on!”

Was I the only student in ihat class who had taken typing in high school or owned an electric typewriter?  C’mon!  I should’ve just told him the truth, but I let him go right on thinking what he did!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Face masks, cookies & apologies: what comes around, goes around

The other day I wrote on here about not having a mask to go shopping (they’re mandatory in Pa now) and had to resort to odds & ends in my cupboard to make cookies.  Doug, you poor baby!  An old friend & former classmate saw my blog, reached out and asked me if I wanted a mask. 

It turns out she’s been busy at home sewing them for family, friends and others in her community.

I didn’t see her email until late that night, but thanked her & let her know it wasn’t necessary as I’d just gotten a 5-pack of white masks from Etsy in the mail.  She responded that she’d already sent one my way. 

And I’m very glad she did—because man, I love it.  The white Etsy masks aren’t bad, but they’re a bit small & awfully snug for my man-face.  My friend’s hand-sewn mask with the red, gray, black & white squares is much roomier, comfortable and makes me feel like an… urban lumberjack!

Pen, thanks very much for your kindness & generosity. 

I wanted to ‘pay it forward’, so yesterday I tacked a notice on our mailroom’s bulletin board that I had a couple of spare masks if anyone was interested.  I have 4 unused ones from that 5-pack, thought I’d send a couple to my sister and give away the other two.

A couple hours later, Betty from upstairs (a funny, outgoing 75 year old woman) knocked on my door and asked if she was too late, and could she have one for her neighbor Liz too.  When she half-stuck her head in my doorway and jokingly asked if I was giving anything else away, I said “Well, I did bake a couple dozen lemon sugar cookies the other day and still have 20 left…”  she said “Great!  I’ll take a dozen if you can put them on a plate, I’ll bring it back tomorrow!”   When I joked she must have a sweet tooth as big as mine, she said “Oh they’re not just for me—a few of us are getting together in the lobby tonight to sling some hash!”  Sling hash?   She said “Yep!  Last week we got a pizza and made a punchbowl of popcorn!  You’re welcome to come!” 

I asked her if she was worried about the virus & close contact with a bunch of others right now, she said “That’s out there, we’re in here.  I think what we’re doing is a lot healthier.” 

Betty, for your sake (and theirs) I sure hope so.

Finally, I want to apologize for what I wrote in my last blog, that a few of my friends needed to “buck up”.  I recently had my own feelings jerked around by someone I like, and I shouldn’t be taking anyone else’s lightly, especially right now.  Earlier yesterday when I walked up the street (wearing my snazzy new mask) to go to the pharmacy, seeing how quiet & empty the street & storefronts were… it really put a damper on my own spirits. 

(It was a gloomy, rainy day as well, that certainly didn’t help.)  This has been a scary, depressing reality for everyone.

But I couldn’t help but smile when the pharmacist said “Hey that’s a nice mask!”   Laughing out loud

Thanks again, Pen

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Yes Sophia, I’m going a little crazy too— just not in the same way

Early last week, my 15 year old niece Sophia said she hoped the COVID-19 crisis wasn’t making me crazy, because it was making her crazy.  Wait, before I continue… is this kid beautiful or what.  She’s already taller than me (she got that from her dad’s side of the family), but those dark eyes are her mother’s, my sister Shawn.  

Anyway--I already knew this pandemic was taking a toll on her, and while my heart goes out to Sophia, at least she’s safe at home and not infected.  I can’t help but think back to when I was her age, when I honestly wondered if I’d ever finish growing up—at 15, days seem more like weeks.  But at the same time, it surprises me how different her life is compared to ours back then.

If this pandemic had struck 45 years ago, would mine & Shawn’s lives have been so disrupted?  No, I don’t think so.  While Soph has the luxury of Dish TV, Netflix, Wii, her smartphone, her computer—she’s an only child.  (Well, sort of… Soph lays claim to a brother & sister, but they’re from my sister’s husband’s first marriage, and were on their own when Sophia came along).  So her mom & I had none of her magical devices, but we had 5 brothers & sisters to play with, plot with, fight with.  Kids need kids, it’s as simple as that.

So while this “forced distancing” is easy as pie for me—I’ve been in social isolation since December 2018 because of my broken jaw—what’s making things a little crazy for me isn’t Trump (he’s making me a LOT crazy) but these people with their personal tales of woe.  If you need to work and haven’t lost your job (like my sister did), what do you have to gripe about?  I’ve got one friend I love dearly, and laments that everyday now feels like “Groundhog Day”.  (That’s actually a good analogy.)  I’ve got another who says eating at home everyday is killing her appetite and ANOTHER friend who says he’s going nuts without his morning Starbucks.  Tom, you get to work from home full-time now; you have no complaints!  Buck up!

Anyway, I love these guys…  but sometimes I think they’d be better off sharing their stuff in a blog. 

It works for me...  Nerd smile

Getting back to Sophia--she’s so stinkin’ smart, I hope that after all of this is over and she’s back out in public again, she isn’t found by some model scout looking for fresh faces (and tall skinny figures).  I want to see her use that brain of hers to make the world a better place… it already IS a better place for having her in it.  Love & miss you.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Doug’s “I can’t bake but this is an emergency” lemon sugar cookies

It was announced last week that effective Monday, YOU CANNOT SHOP WITHOUT A FACE MASK IN PA.  Uh-oh.  I suspected this was coming and tried to plan ahead, but not soon enough.  (I ordered some cloth masks from Etsy, but they’re being shipped from Los Angeles and according to the tracker, STILL in Los Angeles.)

Sunday afternoon I made an emergency run to the market (along with the other naked faces) and stocked up on some necessities— eggs, bologna, hummus, lima beans, chicken, tomatoes, soup.   There were three 6-packs of Charmin toilet tissue on the shelf—Charmin!  I thanked my maker and grabbed one, this brings me up to 19 rolls.

Then I awoke Monday morning, went to get a bowl of cereal—darn, no cereal.  How about pancakes?  No mix, no syrup.  Any peanut butter?  Yes, but no jam, and no bread.  And then it hit me: 

I HAVE NOTHING SWEET TO EAT IN MY APARTMENT.  How in God’s name did I allow such a thing to happen??  I can live without social contact… but no cake, no ice cream, no cookies?  What’s the point of living then?

I found a recipe online for “lemon sugar cookies” (the only cookie recipe I have all the ingredients for) and while I know it sounds simple, the last time I baked something sweet from scratch… I think I was 10. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures, so regardless of the outcome, I’m going to share the results here.

1. THIS RIVAL HAND MIXER HASN’T SEEN THE LIGHT OF DAY IN THIRTY YEARS.  But aside from some rattling (and a creepy ozone smell), it still works.  Okay, beat one stick softened butter & a cup of sugar together until “light & fluffy.”  

Um… I’m not getting fluffy.  More like frothy.  I’m proceeding.


3.  REDUCE MIXER TO LOW & ADD 1 TSP ARM & HAMMER BAKING SODA, 1/4 TSP SALT & 2 CUPS FLOUR THAT EXPIRED ONLY 3 MONTHS AGO.  Beat until no streaks remain.  What’s a streak?  Oh well, done!

4.  COVER & CHILL IN FRIDGE FOR 2-4 HOURS.  Wait, 2-4 hours??

At least now I have lots of time to clean up my kitchen, you wouldn’t believe the mess I made in there.  (Don’t forget to turn the mixer speed down BEFORE you add the flour.)

A few hours later…



6.  BAKE AT 350 DEGREES FOR 12-15 MINUTES.  Unless you have an ‘air bake’ cookie sheet like this one, then bake at 350 degrees until Wednesday.

20 minutes later….

I feel like Steve Urkel, that nerd on Family Matters.  “Did I do that?”

Forgive my boasting, but these came out so good.  Crispy around the edges, soft & cushy in the center AND DELICIOUS.  (I added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice during the mixing, next time I’m going to add double that.)

Now my only problem is, I enjoyed two of ‘em and I’m stuffed--they’re bigger than you think.  And I have 25 more.  What am I going to do with all these cookies??  Eat them while waiting for my masks, I guess!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Shopping at Kuhn’s: it’s a different world from where we come from

This is Kuhn’s, my neighborhood supermarket.  It’s about two blocks walking distance from my apartment, and aside from a deli far up the street, pretty much the only game in town.  It’s bigger than your average corner market, but certainly smaller than those chain groceries like Giant Eagle or Aldi.  I’ve been shopping here since 1994.

I have a real affection for the place.  A couple of months ago (before this pandemic crisis started), I was in there one day in the cleaning products aisle, looking up & down the shelves.  The store’s manager was nearby with a clipboard, saw me and asked if I was looking for something in particular.  I said yes, Spic n’ Span.  He pointed his pencil at a row of Spic n’ Span bottles on the shelf, and I said no, I wanted the powdered stuff that comes in a box.  A woman nearby said “Oh I remember that!  Do they still make that?”  I said I didn’t know, hadn’t seen it in years, but it was BY FAR my favorite stuff for scrubbing the bathtub, lasted twice as long as “Scrubbin’ Bubbles” and had the freshest scent of any cleanser out there.

The manager said “It’s still available, I’d be happy to order a case if you promise to buy a box.”  I said I’d buy two.  I didn’t think anymore of it, but just one week later when I was back in the store, Scott (the manager) saw me and said “Hey, we have your Spic n’ Span.  I set aside a couple boxes for you.” 

I’ll never use anything else again. 

A week or so after Christmas, I was in frozen foods and one of the deli workers hurried up the aisle to my cart.  She said “I know you didn’t want to forget this” and handed me a small white tub.  When I said I hadn’t asked for anything from the deli counter, she said “We made turkey fluff this morning and you know we only make it 3 or 4 times a year.”  (Turkey fluff is roasted turkey, stuffing & chopped onions, whipped together until it becomes an airy fluff.  Trust me, it’s delicious.)  And for someone with a messed up jaw, a godsend.  I wanted to hug her.

I could give a dozen other boring examples (like Mary Grace, the cashier & former nun who knows I walk there and triple bags everything, or Charlene, another cashier who reminds me when my favorite cheesecake ice cream is in stock—“Run over and get one hon, I’ll wait!”)

I wouldn’t want to shop anywhere else, but with everything going on with this coronavirus, it sure isn’t the Kuhn’s I’ve shopped at for 26 years.

When I walked there yesterday, I was surprised how few cars were in the store’s parking lot; yet there was a line of people waiting outside.  At the entrance, a thirtysomething man (wearing a brown & gold face mask) was holding a clipboard.  The last man standing turned to me and said “We have to wait for someone to leave before the next person’s allowed in.”  Oh.  A few minutes later, a woman joined the line and I turned & told her.  And so on, and so on. 

Fifteen minutes later, when there was still 4-5 people in front of me (and easily a dozen now behind), a man from the back shouted “I JUST NEED ONE THING!”  He was greeted with silence.  He shouted again:  “WHY DO WE HAVE TO WAIT IF WE’RE PAYING, THIS AIN’T THE FOOD BANK!”  Again, silence.  Finally a couple pushing a cart exited the store, and the man with the clipboard motioned the next one in line to head in.  The shouter in back yelled “TWO LEFT THE STORE!  LET TWO IN!”  The guy with the clipboard (now that I was closer, noticed his facemask resembled a Gucci handbag) shouted back “They were TOGETHER, sir!  Together!”  The man in front of me said “I always seem to come at the wrong time… I always wind up with one of those guys behind me.”   Gucci-Man said “Oh, I’ve had 3 of those since yesterday.”

When I was finally the next to go in, Gucci said “It should only be a couple minutes now sir, we appreciate your patience.”  I said that was okay, and asked if he wanted anything while I was in there.  He said “No but thank you!  You’re the second one to offer!  I hope this wasn’t too bad a wait.”   I told him I just pretended I was waiting to get into somewhere really special.

He said “Like a restaurant?”  I said “No, like that discotheque Studio 54 in the 1970s… gee I hope I see Liza Minnelli in there!  Or Halston!”  Gucci laughed and said “Omigod that’s so funny!”

Pleased with myself, I chuckled and turned to the woman behind me to see if she was smiling too.  She looked exactly like a pissed off Lucy from Charlie Brown.  Oh well!

Friday, April 10, 2020

I don’t have a thing for older women (but I guess I have a thing for older women)

A year or so ago when I was still on Facebook, I made the egregious error one day of saying I missed my 85 year old neighbor Nancy. 

This is not Nancy.  I’m getting to this.

After living in Pittsburgh for 30 years, my sister convinced me it’d be in my best interest to move home.  (It was a big mistake, I lasted there all of 6 months.)

But I did make one friend in my short time there, my next door neighbor Nancy—an ornery woman who told me I was a dead-ringer for her husband who’d died 30 years prior.

When I asked her how he died, she said probably from too many sweets, plus he liked to walk around in his bare feet all the time—just like me.  Er… okay!

Anyway—my pal Eric (a younger friend of mine, also ornery) photoshopped this pic of me with some golden oldie; I had no idea who she was.  He posted it on my Facebook and I spent the next couple weeks having to explain to people THIS ISN’T NANCY, IT ISN’T EVEN A REAL PHOTO.

What got me thinking about this is that a couple weeks ago, I was watching tv and there was a news story about the 2020 additions of Victoria’s Secret models, those young women who walk down a runway in their underwear.  I sat here grading each one: “Too skinny, too bony, too spray-tanned, too mousy even though I know mousy is in, this one’s flaunting her hip bones, this one’s damn legs are thinner than her arms!”  

I had given a failing grade to each model.  Doug, what’s wrong with you??  I’LL TELL YOU WHAT’S WRONG, I’M ALMOST 60 AND HAVE NO SEX DRIVE LEFT.  Well, I just figured it was gone with age—or from the carvedilol I take for my high blood pressure now or the nortriptyline for nerve pain.  Who cares, I’d rather eat pancakes!

But then yesterday morning, after settling on my couch with my remote and first cup of coffee, I snapped on my TV and was greeted with this image of various women seated together, also in their underwear.  And before I even knew what I was thinking, I heard myself say “hubba hubba”.  Hubba hubba?  Where did that come from?

It was an older women’s underwear commercial from some company named Knix.  Never heard of them, but I sure liked their more mature models.  I thought about these ladies the rest of the day. 

So maybe I didn’t lose my sex drive after all… it’s just not what it used to be. Nerd smile

To be honest, maybe I saw this coming.  When my sixtyish neighbor Opal moved into the building a few months ago (I’ve written about her before, she sits in the lobby everyday with a book) I was starting to get a little curious about her, maybe doing a couple of quick appraisals. 

But then earlier this week, Silver-Sneaky Sue on the first floor confided to me that Opal spends most of her waking hours in the lobby because she thinks she’s being followed around in her apartment by the ghost of an old italian woman.

Opal’s hoping her ghost gets bored and leaves soon, because she doesn’t want to move again.  It seems she had a problem with ghosts following her around in her last apartment too.

I know people usually come with baggage, especially at our age... but with ghosts?  Well, I’m sure that after this pandemic passes there will be plenty of other gems out there. 

Meanwhile, I sure hope Nancy is doing okay.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Scary words from the man on the sidewalk

There was a man sitting on the sidewalk outside of my apartment building today.  I was walking home from the market, and as I crossed the intersection at Home Ave & California Ave (where a large stone Methodist church sits on the corner), I saw a man plunked down in the center of the walk, midway between the church and my apartment building.

I’ve seen my share of men sitting on sidewalks… in my 30+ years working in downtown Pittsburgh, I did plenty of shaking my head or turning away at the various men swathed in dirty blankets or trash bags, hunkered down against various buildings, usually with those dirty cardboard signs propped up in front of them. 

(I wasn’t always so heartless; my first couple years in the city I felt very fortunate to be in the position I was in, and would often fish out a dollar or some change.)  But over time, you begin to realize it’s always the same faces at the same spots, and when you become jaded to the bloodshot eyes and their cries “A LITTLE HELP PLEASE!”  there’s a fresh new crop of downtown worker bees guiltily tossing down their change.

But this wasn’t anything like that.  The man I was approaching looked very clean (other than needing a shave), around my age, maybe a couple years older. He was lean, had on faded jeans, brown shoes, a black & white flannel shirt untucked.  He was just… sitting there in the center of the walk.

right thereAs I got closer, I said “Sir.. you okay?”  He didn’t acknowledge me, just sat there cross-legged, staring into the empty street.  I said “Did you fall?  Are you waiting on somebody?”   Again, no answer. 

I was forced to step off the curb, walk in the street before getting back up on the walk.  When my back was to him, I heard “Got a cigarette?”  I turned and he was looking at me then.  I said sorry, no.  He shook his head and returned his gazing at the road.

As I approached the steps that go up into my apartment building, I saw Opal (who lives on my floor and spends her days reading in the lobby) standing there, holding a paperback in one hand and her smartphone in the other.  She said “What did he say to you?”  I told her he asked me for a cigarette.  She said “He’s been sitting there for a half-hour.  Should we call someone?”  I said yes, dial 911.  She did and told them, then nodded her head and turned her phone off.  She said “The police are on their way.”

When the police arrived just a few minutes later, 2 officers approached the man, both wearing face masks.  We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Sidewak Man seemed to be ignoring them.  When the shorter cop squatted down, the man shouted “I CAN’T HEAR WHAT YER SAYIN’ THRU THOSE THINGS!!”   The cop pulled down his mask and spoke to him.  Again, we couldn’t hear what the officer was saying.  Sidewalk Man did though, and yelled “THEN HAVE ME ADMITTED!”

The cop stood up, said something to his partner who returned to their car.  A few minutes later, he came back and the one cop squatted down again and spoke to Sidewalk Man.  And a few minutes after that, an EMERGENCY van arrived, lights flashing but silent, and 2 paramedics (both masked) joined the police.  They conferred for several minutes, then got on both sides of Sidewalk Man and lifted him gently to his feet and walked him to the ambulance’s sliding door.  Sidewalk Man hesitated getting in, then shouted “DOES ANYONE SEE WHATS HAPPENING!” and was quickly pulled up & inside, and the door slid shut.  I felt a weird shudder in my back & shoulders.

As the ambulance slowly drove away, the police car following, Opal didn’t say a word; she turned and headed back into our building, with me right behind.  One of the other residents in our building, Sue who lives on the first floor, was holding the door open for us.  She said “Scary times.”  I nodded my head in agreement.   I know I watch too many movies, but the way things played out reminded me of that final scene in the 1972 movie Soylent Green, set 50 years in the future in the year 2022, where Charlton Heston is being taken away by medics, and cries out Soylent Green is made from people. 

I always loved the opening titles to that film.  In that scary future, people were forced to wear masks when outside too.