Time For Vote By Mail

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If ever there were a perfect time to switch to mail-in voting, that time is right now.  Even before onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and my subsequent lockdown as part of the at-risk demographic (old, with health issues) I’d been re-thinking the importance of voting by mail, particularly this year. I’d even checked out the deadline for requesting the proper ballot. But then Gov. Gavin Newsom took care of it for me last week with an order that ballots be mailed to all 20.6 million California voters. That makes the state the first in the nation to do so, though more will follow, I’m sure — unless Congress could be persuaded to miraculously fall in line quickly and make our national elections truly national.

Giving up a long-held tradition like in-person voting is hard and very much out of character for me. Especially when it’s something that Ed and I practiced faithfully over close to 60 years of life together in communities on one coast or the other. When we returned to California — cross-country move Number Five —  some of our Los Angeles neighbors seemed surprised that we did not, as they did, vote by mail.  I had the impression our insistence on going to the actual polling location reflected to them some unnecessary, outdated East Coast oddity, one of several, no doubt.

Looking back at all the skulduggery – not  to mention outright illegal acts — perpetrated by one political party against the other over the years, I wonder what took me so long to join what is a growing consensus. It was the sight of Wisconsin primary election voters braving cold, rain and the threat of coronavirus for hours last April that did it for me. I’d tried to follow all the machinations leading to the chaos of that day in Milwaukee where fear of contagion kept so many older poll workers away that only five of 180 polling places were open. Five polling sites!

Had any of the voters that day become ill, I’d been wondering. I found the answer in this excellent New York Times Magazine article by Emily Bazelon titled “Can Democracy Survive the Pandemic?” (The online version now reads “Will Americans Lose the Right to Vote in the Pandemic?”). To my concern for how those hours outside in line might have affected voters, Bazelon writes, “In the weeks after the election, “Milwaukee health officials traced at least 40 cases of the virus to in-person voting.”

As more than one commentator has declared, “No one should have to choose between exposure to a potentially fatal disease and exercising the right to vote.”

So there’s Reason Number One to vote by mail, particularly during a pandemic.

Others that come to mind: Safety from hacking by nefarious outsiders. Ease of voting for the elderly or disabled persons. Increased involvement and interest in our government. Support for our beleaguered postal service.

The only people on earth who do not think foreign entities are already planning to disrupt our 2020 election are those who loudly claimed for the past three years it didn’t happen last time. And they now just as loudly claim vote-by-mail is unsafe. They are wrong.

Think how fearful so many of us are about identity theft or just plain theft from our bank accounts. We’re advised to change passwords frequently and to keep watch for unusual online activity.  Think how frequently you hit the wrong computer key or send something off into cyberspace in error. We have become so enamored with computerizing everything, simply because we can.

There currently is a movement for requiring paper ballots in elections. I signed a petition in favor but wished I could add a codicil requiring the completed ballot then be put into the mail. With a copy kept behind for reference. I can’t even begin to imagine how hackers could change the results of an election conducted with paper ballots mailed from secure locations all over the country. But there’s Reason Number Two.

As for my Reason Number Three, assistance for elderly and/or disabled voters,  it goes without saying that making the voting process easier for everyone is beneficial to democracy. What if a person, having intended to go to the polls, wakes up on election day too ill to leave the home with deadlines past for obtaining a mail-in ballot?

When I’d contemplated obtaining a ballot myself as a precaution this year, I found the rules in my district fairly simple. But regulations differ from state to state, and some are quite byzantine. Some states require absentee voting applications to be witnessed by another person, and even in some states notarized. And only certain excuses will pass muster. During Wisconsin’s April fiasco, voters complained the ballots they’d requested never arrived. I suppose some of those would-be voters could very well have ended up in line that day.

Exercising the right to vote should not be a grueling enterprise with hurdles thrown up along the way to be overcome. And we’ve certainly seen enough of that in recent times, starting with ridiculously gerrymandered voting districts. Along with insufficient numbers of polling stations, how about those placed far removed from any possible public transportation access? Or with polling days or hours that make it impossible for those without flexible work schedules? Another lousy choice: Lose a day’s pay or get to exercise your right to vote.

If the actual voting process could be made less onerous, more people would participate and become more interested and involved in the workings of our democracy. I would think our current president and others would be embarrassed to admit out loud that they prefer elections in which fewer voters participate because they think their side fares better. C’mon, really? Well, there you go: Reason Number Four.

And finally, Reason Number Five, support for the U.S. Postal Service, which our current president denigrates at every turn, calls “a joke,” and hopes to privatize into oblivion. When I first began thinking of this post, I planned to head it “Ben Franklin Must Be Rolling in His Grave.” But I learned that while the multi-talented Franklin was brought in to help with improvements to our emerging country’s postal services, many others among our founders and then leaders through ensuing years are credited with building the service into an envy of the world.

While I was thinking that all this deserved more time and space, and perhaps for another day’s post, Saturday’s New York Times jolted me with an article by Ted Widmer, a professor at the City University of New York, titled “The Postal Service Is Not ‘a Joke.” (Online, the title became “The Postal Service Is the Most American Thing We’ve Got.”)

I commend it to you and urge you to join me in becoming informed on the urgency of saving this worthy service, which, he writes, “was never supposed to be a moneymaking enterprise, or a political football. The founders understood that the reliable delivery of information was basic to democracy.”

Most alarming to me as I have been meandering about the subject of mail-in voting, was this observation from Widmer’s article:  “Without major new funding, the service will run out of money in September, well before the November election — whose success may depend on a huge mail-in effort.”

Is that enough to get you moving? To be safe, find out what’s required in your state for mail-in voting and prepare yourself. Please.

The first time I voted in Pasadena was for this year’s May 3 primary election. As I stood in line admiring the beautiful architectural details in the second floor hallway of the old City Hall, volunteer poll workers appeared from time to time to give updates on the expected wait time both in the hall and once inside the room set up for voting. They also offered to accept any mail-in ballots voters had with them, sparing them further wait. That interested me; I guess the postmarked date was unimportant if you brought it right there on election day.

A new touch-screen computer system was being introduced, and once the line had moved close enough, I could see a young volunteer excitedly moving from one machine to another offering assistance. “He’s having fun, isn’t he?” I mentioned to the man ahead of me in line.  I hoped the tech enthusiast would still be at it when my turn came to use his help. He was and he did.  It all went quickly. “See you in November,” I told the volunteers. And then we all went into lockdown, and in-person voting became, at least for now, moot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like, A Very Smart Person

From the first mention of Donald Trump as a possible candidate for the presidency of the United States, I have wondered how my father would have reacted to the news that his fellow Wharton School alumnus harbored such ambitions. Charles Alfred Keyser, Class of 1931, died in 1970 in Montclair, New Jersey at age 60, still to my knowledge intensely proud of his connection to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. That and his Delta Tau Delta fraternity chapter there. My siblings and I used to grumble about the long hot rides in a car with no air conditioning before the Garden State Parkway and other toll roads existed  because the dentist or doctor or someone else was an old school friend from Penn. Of course, as a Northwestern Mutual life insurance agent, there probably was a business benefit to maintaining those old contacts. As kids, we didn’t see that.

My father taught me all the words to the song disparaging Penn’s rival university, Cornell: “Far above Cayuga’s waters there’s an awful smell . . .”  It was probably good that I chose a different midwestern university’s school of journalism to attend when the time came.

Charles Keyser, nicknamed Whitey by his boyhood friends in Nebraska in reference to his very blond hair, was born in Lincoln, the son of a horticulture professor and a conservatory-trained pianist. The marriage ended in divorce, with Charles and his mother moving to the town of Wayne. My father spent his first two years of college at the local state teachers college before transferring to Penn. When I suggested a similar approach as a money-saving move for myself, he said, “No, it’s much better to spend the entire four years at the same place.”

After graduating, my father moved to New York City and found work at a large company, with which he shortly became dissatisfied, planning to leave as soon as he was able. (When I saw the film, “The Apartment,” the scene of actor Jack Lemmon’s workplace – row upon row of identical desks occupied by identical men all identically dressed and robot-like pushing identical-looking papers – it reminded me of my father’s description of the place. For all my life I heard from an uncle on my mother’s side of the family about how my father quit a perfectly good job during the Depression.)

I don’t know how my parents met. I picture them as young people do, making the best of a bad economic condition, sharing cheap wine and food with equally strapped friends. My mother had returned from a wonderful year in France where she’d  attended the Paris branch of the New York School of Fine & Applied Art (Parsons). Back in New York, she found work as a fashion illustrator with the designer Muriel King. Following a wedding in the backyard of her parents’ home in Orange, New Jersey, the newlyweds moved to a rented apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. I came along eventually and lived there with them until the aforementioned perfectly good job did not lead to another, and the three of us were forced to move to the third floor of my grandparents’ home in Orange.

That is a very long-winded explanation of how little my father had in common with our current president: Wharton and some exposure to Queens, though I can’t imagine the Jackson Heights neighborhood holding much interest back then for the young playboy developer. However, after my father died (playing chess at the Montclair YMCA) my brother and my husband went to the Northwestern Mutual offices in Newark to pick up his belongings. All his co-workers expressed sorrow, with many agreeing with the colleague who declared, “Charlie Keyser was one of the smartest people I ever knew.”

But I never heard my father say anything like that about himself. Out loud, for all the world to hear.

Oh, and he was a Republican, I’m sure. That’s another thing I’ve wondered about in the time of Trump. Would he still be?

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Photo: Wiki Media Commons

St. Patrick’s Pandemic

For the first time in the 82 years since the maternity nurses at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital convinced my parents it would be almost unpatriotic to give their newborn daughter any other name when the huge annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade was marching down Fifth Avenue, my birthday took place in a truly surreal time.

(I have always been grateful to those New York nurses, not to mention St. Patrick, even though an ancestry.com DNA Ethnicity Estimate a few years ago indicated I am just five percent Irish.  The rest of me is pretty evenly distributed between Great Britain and Italy.)

The thing about having a name and a birthday like mine makes it hard for friends and relatives to forget it once the day arrives and one way or another mention of St. Patrick gets made. This year’s news mentions tended to be limited to parades cancelled and bars and restaurants shut down. So again this year, and especially this year, hunkered down in my small apartment where public health authorities recommend older persons with medical conditions sequester themselves, I spent the day talking on the phone, answering texts and email, never changing from the scruffy old sweatpants and shirt I throw on to pick up the newspapers each morning.

Any plans for celebrating my birthday changed from day to day as COVID-19 news grew more frightening with the numbers of those infected steadily growing along with deaths. And as we learned more about this brand-new, never-before-experienced virus, with no advanced warning symptoms, some of us began to realize we could already be infected.  At first, I told my Los Angeles daughter that I really didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant or inviting other friends to join us that evening, but it turned out by the time of the 17th, many restaurants here were not serving diners at tables anyhow. She was disappointed and offered to look into nearby restaurants offering take-out meals that she and her husband could bring to my apartment.

That morning, lying in bed I re-played in my mind video she had shown of her husband playing with his new grandkids, delighted laughter of all serving as soundtrack. No, they can’t come here, I thought. I could be a carrier, especially as I’d spent the afternoon before at the DMV renewing my drivers license. I sent a text, but she insisted she had things to deliver. She would alert me from the elevator and hang a bag on my door. I was talking on the phone when a soft knock and the sound of the birthday song from a mobile phone sent me to open the door. My daughter and son-in-law stood  the required four feet back, smiling and wishing me greetings. Thank you, I said, now go home.

In the bag she’d brought were a few grocery items I’d mentioned and four packages of Hostess cupcakes that she, who doesn’t eat chocolate, had searched for. The cupcakes, especially the coconut covered Sno-Balls® are a junk-food tradition for my birthday. On the east coast the coconut is frequently green for St. Patrick’s Day, but here the best she could find was pink. I assured her later when I called thanks, pink is the new green.

Even my birthday cakes are downsizing!

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Time to Woman Up

Okay, enough of this nonsense. I’ve allowed the current frightening times to scare me from speaking out. When two friends on opposite sides of the country wrote within two days wondering why this website has been even more than usual devoid of blogging activity, I guess I can’t continue to describe it as a site that nobody looks at. There’s two anyway.

Knowing my inclination toward news addiction, particularly political and particularly now, they rightly assumed I’d been riveted to TV coverage of November’s House Impeachment hearings and the subsequent swift Senate trial of the president, with its disappointing results, perhaps my two web followers hoped I’d have a properly snarky comment designed to lighten the ensuing horror. I’m sorry, can’t do snarky right now.

The morning after the Senate vote when only one brave Republican dared to honor the oath each member took at the proceeding’s outset – let’s hear it for Mitt Romney’s conscience and vow to cut him some slack on that hopefully now abandoned practice of driving with his dog in a crate atop his car – I stumbled downstairs to retrieve my newspaper in a masochistic urge to relive it all. A fellow tenant, a man in my demographic age-wise as well as political leaning, asked, “How are you this morning?” and I knew he wasn’t inquiring about my health. Shaking my head morosely, I answered, “Sad. I am so very sad for my country. And fearful.”

I went on to tell my neighbor that the only telegram Ed and I ever sent to the White House in more than half a century of marriage and shared daily consumption of the news, was in response to the Nixon Administration’s Saturday Night Massacre. I remember feeling proud and patriotic, and perfectly safe, knowing it was our Constitutional right to do so. Now, signing petitions, placing phone calls and demonstrating to express my opinions, I do it with a degree of trepidation: Am I opening myself up to being tracked? Harassed by people who disagree with me? Getting on a list of some kind?

A guest on Rachel Maddow’s program recently quoted another person who said this feels like Germany in 1939. I’ve always wondered how Hitler and Nazism happened in that advanced and richly cultured country, and yet in recent times it’s become more apparent. When friends ask how I can stand following the news, so much of it unpleasant, any answer I can give about our nation and history sounds priggish and certainly not conducive to continuing conversation.

I replied to my two web followers that every night I climb in bed, my mind buzzing with ideas and a determination to blog about them. But in the morning in front of the computer, I chicken out. And curse the situation that makes me afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collection of Mugs in Search of a Purpose

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What would you do with more than 150 coffee mugs, each emblazoned with a design representing a museum or cultural attraction? If you’d always wanted to open a café that would give you immediate cachét. “Let’s meet at that cool place with museum mugs,” people would say. And possibly, provide a name for your establishment: Café Cachét. Perhaps even a slogan: “Where culture vultures never run out of inspiration.” With an image of a vulture? Nah. That would be seen as overkill, pardon the pun.

My daughters, in their continuing effort to help prepare for the ultimate downsizing of their mother’s stuff, thought I might enjoy learning eBay. Selling on eBay, that is, not the purchasing side of the online auction site. I’ve already experienced so-called “estate sales” on both coasts. For the first one in a very large wreck of a house we’d occupied for 30 years in New Jersey, we were blessed with a contingent of friends who helped. Still painful, so much so that when it came time to empty a more moderate-sized house – though still jammed full – in California, I opted for an estate-sale service that would take those things they considered saleable to one of their two resale locations, extract a hefty commission and send an accounting with a check. That was somewhat less painful, though their accounting reports got very short shrift before being shoved into a file drawer. Again painful.

Trouble is, we liked our stuff. And we were collectors. Once you acquire more than one of a thing it becomes a collection. And before long, an obsession. Not an out-of-control obsession, you understand, just something interesting to do at the many business conferences we were required to attend. If the locale was at all conducive to it, organizers of business conferences almost always included time in the schedule for golf .  Not being golfers either of us, we chose to use that time for sightseeing and especially, prowling museums.

And here is how the mug collection came about. Heading toward the exit after an afternoon of art appreciation and perhaps a pleasant lunch, the conversation might go like this:

 “Should we stop in the gift shop?”

 “Oh, I don’t know, what would we want? The luggage is already heavy.”

“We could always buy a mug.”

Before long, “We could always buy a mug” became “Let’s see if they have mugs.”

And so it begins.

I told one of the daughters my contention is you can’t call it hoarding if it’s part of a collection and properly displayed. And these mugs, never used, were displayed on specially built shelves in the guest room where we assured overnight company they should not worry about waking under a blanket of crockery.

Friends have suggested alternatives to this method of selective downsizing, but my daughters and I think this is worth a try. Who knows? Perhaps there’s a café about to open up with empty walls crying out for décor that is unique — and utilitarian. I picture diners selecting their favorites to take to their tables, much like old-time barber shops kept their clients’ shaving mugs on display.

The first part of the collection goes up for auction on ebay.com this evening, 10/17. Check it out.  https://www.ebay.com/usr/ninedanes2

 

 

 

On Columbus Day, Things My Italian Relatives Never Told Me

Even after nine decades of life as an American, I can find new details about history — even history with particular personal resonance. Until reading in yesterday’s New York Times opinion pages Brent Staples’ piece titled “How Italians Became ‘White,’” I had no idea of the extent of depravity and racist violence inflicted upon Southern Italian immigrants in the early years of the last century. I knew there had been discrimination, but I thought of it in terms of slights or shunning – or struggles for employment or embarrassment about mob bosses – not being hanged alongside African Americans for the sin of skin that might have been somewhat darker. My Southern Italian relatives never told me about that.

Staples notes that “a white, Protestant and homogeneous America” was what Congress had in mind when it declared in 1790 that only “free white persons, who have, or shall migrate into the United States were eligible to become naturalized citizens.” His article continued, “The calculus of racism underwent swift revision when waves of culturally diverse immigrants from the far corners of Europe changed the face of the country.” Staples cites historian Matthew Frye Jacobson’s immigrant history “Whiteness of a Different Color” in noting, “the surge of newcomers engendered a national panic and led Americans to adopt a more restrictive, politicized view of how whiteness was to be allocated.” Sound familiar, does it?

In my as-yet-if-ever-to-be-published book, In Paris, Everyone Calls Me Honey, the letters my mother (family name Miele) wrote  home from an extraordinary year as an art student in France are interspersed with descriptions of the struggles and successes of her immigrant family striving through the Depression years and beyond.  As a second generation Italian-American, I was perplexed by the absence of empathy toward others enduring somewhat similar indignities. Riding in the car with two aunts on a shopping excursion, I saw one turn to the other and gesture toward me in the back seat. “You know,” the one said, “She thinks black people are the same as white people.”  The other, the driver, replied, “That’s because she went to college.” I wish I’d known at the time to mention the lynchings.

Not long ago, my brother, visiting from the east, chatted with a diverse group of my Los Angeles neighbors. He told them about our Italian grandparents and the discrimination that existed on the East Coast when they started out. “Oh no, not Italians,” the neighbor said, implying my brother didn’t know what he was talking about, that no Italian-Americans ever suffered any hardships ever. Always the conciliator, I quickly interjected, “That’s because the Italians who came to California, established vast wineries and giant banks, and became leading citizens. Not everyone on the east coast was able to accomplish that, given the competition. But they managed to educate their children and assure their success, while becoming stalwart members of their communities.”

I am as proud of my immigrant ancestors whose names are now etched on the wall at Ellis Island as I am of the Revolutionary War surgeon and Midwestern homesteaders in my family tree. They and all their descendants have played important roles in making this nation worth preserving.

Real Drivers Required!

A Saturday morning jolt: Stumbled back upstairs with the newspapers, poured coffee and sat as the New York Times business section fell into my lap. Oh my gosh, a story about a couple in Florida asphyxiated when their keyless car did not turn itself off. That’s the car I lightly, almost jokingly, wrote about on my personal blog last February, describing a harrowing 65-mile drive in a Colorado snowstorm with a push-button rental car. Same car, same model. The Times article says that older drivers especially, forget to turn the ignition off. How is it done? Instructions for starting the engine without a key were printed on the dashboard but not for stopping it. I’m an older driver, and that evening in the motel parking lot, I was disturbed to walk away from a still-running car and sought help from the young desk clerk.  He walked outside to look just as the car shut itself down. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that gives you enough time to get into your building,” he said. The following day I sought instruction from another young man at a car wash on how the various buttons work. “Sure,” he said. “I have the same car.”

Judging from comments by the few friends who read my sporadic postings, many people are confronted by new cars whose bells and whistles leave them flummoxed.

I began to think I was among the few drivers left whose car at home needed my intervention for all sorts of actions. I had titled that February post “Bring on Self-Drivers,” but had been thinking better of it in light of increased news coverage about horrendous mishaps like this one with the unfortunate Florida couple who bought a car they believed was safe. I also recently heard of a car that drove itself under a semi-truck to devastating destruction, its computer works having mis-calculated the space available.

When I contemplate roadways filled with self-driving cars, the picture that comes to mind is an amusement park attraction. Bumper cars without drivers, moving about haphazardly.

No, these times are haphazard enough. People — and real drivers — are required.