The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

The atmospheric river was flowing earlier this week. Atmospheric river; that’s weather reporter speak for a gully washer that slams in from the Pacific. Before the storm hit I put whatever I could in a shed or in the garage. Whatever was left I covered with tarps. The storm crashed in and the tarps flapped and slapped as if they were taking out some anger over being left out in the gale.

It was a good night to be indoors. I had a fire going.  The smell of the fire mixed with the aroma of a meatloaf in the oven and a pan of roasting Brussels sprouts. There was a cast iron skillet brimming with scalloped potatoes sitting on the stove. Cora and I sat on the couch, she in a sweatshirt and muffler and me in a Pendleton shirt, close together in front of the fireplace. I love the Pendletons, they look, feel and speak of cozy winter warmth.

I was buried in a book and Cora was sewing. Lexi, was in a half sleep curled into a hairy black and tan ball on her dog bed in front of the fireplace. But for Lexi’s occasional dream spasms and the crackling fire it was stone quiet. There we were, a living Norman Rockwell, warm and comfy dandy on a winter’s night.

I’m not a fan of winter. Given the choice I’d be sitting in front of the pool with a good book but if we had to go through the seasonal routine I’d take it. It’s warm and spiritual by a fire, sitting with my partner and my dog while outside the wind is slamming sheets of rain against the windows.

At nine-ish Cora toddled off to bed and Lexi followed while I stayed in front of the fire with my book. Jackson came out of his room to ask what all the noise outside was about. I told him that he was probably hearing the tarps being thrashed around by the wind, adding, “If your great grandfather were around he’d say, ‘T’isn’t a fit night out for man nor beast.’”

A little while later and the tarps had blown off the grills they were supposed to protect. I tried to fasten them down but the wind wasn’t having it.
“Fuck this.”
I gathered up the tarps and tossed them in the garage so I wouldn’t have to fetch them from down the street in the morning and went back inside to get dry and warm.

Back to my book. The rain and wind were pummeling the windows and the pool just about to overflow. I went upstairs to check on Cora. She looked up from her reading.
“My god it’s really windy.”
“Yeah….I know. I’m thinking about all those homeless in the camps.”
Back downstairs – throw another log on the fire. Lexi followed and went back to her dog bed and groaned with doggy pleasure, droopy eyes looking lazily into the warmth.

 

Out there on the Highway 80 corridor are the homeless folks; soaked to the skin folks; chilled to the bone folks; our fellow American folks; the forgotten folks holding onto their tarp shelters for dear life, hoping the fifty plus mile an hour winds wouldn’t blow their makeshift homes somewhere miles away – miles away into the cold San Francisco Bay.

You start to see them around Berkeley as you drive down Highway 80 towards The City. Homeless encampments sprouted like weeds amongst the tall weeds of the cloverleaf highway exits where there’s enough open real estate to put up a small shabby village. You drive through the Bay Bridge maze, that knot of a junction that leads west to San Francisco and east to the rest of America; head southbound to Oakland where the ramshackle villages become more prevalent – a sprawl of poverty, a nation’s shame.

Shelters fashioned out of reclaimed rotting wood, old camping tents, tarps, blankets, cardboard and whatever else is handy. This is America’s other suburbia, the community that we put out of mind unless it’s to excoriate it for being a blight, a skid mark on the local chamber of commerce.

Ninety some years ago, during the Great Depression, they were called Hoovervilles, named for a president who tried to laissez-faire his way out of an economic disaster. What do we call them now? Clinton-villes? Dubya-villes? Obama-villes? Trump-villes? Will they be rechristened Biden-villes? Passed from administration to administration. A rusty, rotting can kicked from president to president, governor to governor and mayor to mayor and nobody knows what the hell to do. Hell they’ve been around for so long why don’t we just call them little America.

A homeless shelter off of Hwy 80, Berkeley CA.

The homeless camps are the most visible but there are others that are barely noticeable.

On many mornings I go running along the bayfront of San Pablo Bay, a route that takes me to the end of Tenant Avenue in nearby Pinole. Not a morning goes by that I don’t see at least one worn out RV or a car with the windows covered with cardboard shades, parked at the dead end. A temporary stop on a pilgrimage to nowhere.

And then there are the others, still with a roof and four walls, but because of a pandemic and a year of an uncaring president, they hang on the edge; a tumble away from living in cars or camps, still smack in the middle of despair. Americans, particularly the poor and what’s left of a shriveling middle class are struggling with paying the bills – struggling just to survive. According to an article in The Hill, “there are up to 18 million children living in households (that are) unable to put food on the table each day.”

 

There’s no money they say.

In December Senator Rand Paul railed against stimulus payments of $600.00. “The coffers are bare. We have no rainy day fund, we have no savings account. Congress has spent all the money long ago.”

Rand Paul has a net worth of 2.5 million dollars. And while he’s a Republican in name he leans Libertarian which is short for Social Darwinism or as the Fortunes once sang, “You’ve got your troubles, I’ve got mine.”

Senator Susan Collins isn’t all in on another $1400.00 per person stimulus check. She says that the checks should be targeted towards low income families. I’m on board with that. I’ll be among the first to admit that I don’t need a stimulus check; nor do my wife or my daughter or probably most of the people on my block. The neighbor down the street could use it though. Her husband lost his job. She’s the one who voted for Trump and is afraid of Socialism – but I wouldn’t begrudge her that Socialistic 1400 bones.

So is the Senate getting busy on identifying people who need the $1400.00 or are they just going to dick around like they did during the summer? And if they do identify the people who need the money and leave out those who are doing just fine (thank you) will they give the needy ones more money? Nevermind, I know the answer to both questions.

There’s no money they say.

In the fiscal year 2019, the United States spent $732 billion on defense. That’s more, MORE, than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil – combined.

There’s no money they say.

Oh there’s money.
On January 6, 2020:
Elon Musk was worth $29 billion.
Jeff Bezos was worth $184 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg was worth $81 billion.
Exactly one year later.
Elon Musk was worth $188 billion.
Jeff Bezos was worth $117 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg was worth $100 billion.

One of the reasons that, as Rand Paul put it, “the coffers are bare,” is that through financial legerdemain and the help of Congress the 1%, like the gentlemen listed above, are not only not paying their fair share in taxes, they are sometimes literally not paying at all or having their taxes deferred for up to thirty years while their bank accounts continue to soak in interest. While America is in despair they’re in the money, rolling in it, bathing in it, money to burn in large denominations; making more of it during a pandemic year than some national economies. If you want to delve into this economic sleight of hand read an article in DC Report.

 

The meatloaf I made didn’t have enough binder. Cora didn’t put bacon bits in the Brussels sprouts and I like the scalloped potatoes with a little more crisp on the top. All in all it was still good though.

It was chilly in the house on that stormy night. It helps that Cora keeps the electric blanket on for me so that I can crawl into a nice warm bed. I don’t know what time the winds stopped howling because I was sound asleep.

I had to drive down 80 the following morning. The homeless were busy in their drenched little camps, picking up the soggy pieces.

The rain hasn’t really let up since our atmospheric river hit and the extended forecast shows at least seven more days of rain.

At five o’clock this morning I drove down to Starbucks for a grande coffee. As I drove out of the rain puddled parking lot I noticed three big lumps on the sidewalk under the strip mall overhang. A closer look revealed three people sleeping on the hard concrete, huddled under thin blankets.

We give. Every year we give. Salvation Army, The Food Bank, St. Jude Hospital. Jessica is on the board of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and I’ve given to that organization. It’s not enough.

When Cora came downstairs and loaded laundry into the washing machine I joined her in the laundry room.
“Fuck this Cora. You know, after I get my second COVID shot I’m going to go down to the local soup kitchen and volunteer. I imagine they’ll take me with my proof of vaccination.”

 

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21 thoughts on “A Dark and Stormy Night

  1. Hettie D. says:

    You know, I am glad you are thinking abut all these things now, For a while, you were jst focused on yourself and your emotions. And – you can just drop off food at the encampment at any time.

    1. Paulie says:

      I thank you for reading.
      That said, I take exception to your comment; an apparent assumption that because I haven’t written about something, I’ve been oblivious to it. There’s a pitfall in making a value judgement of conceit based simply on topics that I’ve chosen to write about.
      I’m also aware that I can drop food off at the encampments.

      1. Hettie D. says:

        It’s not what you did not write about, but what you did write. As an old wise woman, I can often read between thff red lines. What I was saying is that your mood have changed, and I genuinely happy for you. I hope it is permissible :). You do not need to be defensive with me, I was hoping you know it by now

        1. Paulie says:

          I’m still trying to divine what you’re trying to say. Maybe I’m a little dense or I’m reading something into your comments that isn’t there. No matter. As they say in basketball, “No harm, no foul.”
          Maybe some history is in order. When I took up this blog I meant for it to be very light; photos, travel, food. This was originally meant to be a me blog. I’d done a couple of serious blogs and got burned out by them
          When the 2020 election cycle started to heat up with an almost endless cast of Democratic candidates, and Trump becoming more and more bellicose, his incompetence glaring this site took a turn that I never meant for it to take. I’m not sure where it’s going to go now. I sort of feel like it’s driving itself.
          I suppose I’ll do a post about this change.
          Thank you for reading and commenting.

          1. Hettie D. says:

            My impression was that it started with the March lockdown, but it does not really matter. I think that it is very normal and very humane that we can’t keep our blogs dedicated to just one side of ourselves. Never worked for me :). But all this aside, whatever the reason is, I am really happy for you. And my sincere apologies if what I said sounded patronizing or in any other way unpleasant or not called for.

            I meant to add this comment yesterday, but I hit this moment of total exhaustion which happens after a big project is finished, and I just didn’t get to that 🙂

  2. M.B. Henry says:

    I think about this every time we have these bouts of rain and cold – and plenty of other times in between. We do what we can in terms of giving, and we volunteered at our church kitchen a lot pre-pandemic. But man it’s a problem that just keeps getting worse 🙁 🙁

    1. Paulie says:

      The root cause seems to be a multi-headed monster; lack of opportunity, disparities in education, lack of healthcare, social injustice, a decline in the middle class, single parent households and now COVID. On top of it all there are still the Rand Pauls who are tied to the whole mentality of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and don’t think that it’s government’s job to help. And lets not forget trickle down economics.
      Thank you for commenting. Please stay safe.

  3. nesfelicio says:

    Good read.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you. And thank you for reading.

  4. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m reading this in the calm, freezing winter daylight, which juxtaposes nicely against your dark, stormy night. I abhor winter, but a wood fireplace would make a cold night much more palatable. The only thing I can put in our fireplace are candles. I love the smell of firewood and the whole ritual of building a fire, so we bought a fire pit last summer. It’s nice for ambience on cooler nights.

    Toronto’s housing problem is no better, especially now. Tent cities have popped up in outdoor spaces since Covid. Even with availability in city shelters, many of the homeless refuse to go to them. Mental illness plays a part, as does, of course, Covid; social distancing is impossible in the shelters.

    It’s not easy to live a comfortable life when we know there is so much suffering in the world. I don’t have children, but I imagine the old saying, “You’re only as happy as your most unhappy child” might apply, albeit to a lesser extent when it’s for people we don’t know.

    You do as much as you can, but you wish you could do more. It is never enough.

    I get it.

    I don’t judge the Bezos, Zuckerbergs, et al of the world. They earned their money. It’s more money than anyone will need to live on, but it’s their money. As private citizens, they can choose to spend it however they like. I do judge, however, the system that is skewed toward enabling the rich to become richer. And that’s especially true of public officials who forget they were voted in to improve the lives of their constituents, not themselves.

    You, Paul, can only control what you do and hope it resonates outward within your circle of family, friends, acquaintances, readers of your blog, and beyond. You lead by your ability to give and share of your time and money, and to do so with kindness. This is neither a small nor insignificant act. It’s a fucking big deal, with a capital F. It has the power to change the consciousness of possibility.

    If more people were like you, the world would be a better place.

    eden

    1. Paulie says:

      Good evening Eden. Sorry for the late response on this.
      So, uh, we use the fireplace to keep warm on a, umm, like 50 degree F. night. Forty if it’s really cold. Here in the Bay Area cold is a different thing than it is in Toronto.

      That said, the night that I wrote about was indeed cold and windy and wet. Especially so if you’re huddled under a makeshift tent.

      You’re right of course about Bezos et al. and the system that’s been gamed in their favor. Johnson was the last president for the poor and the middle class and that was half a century ago. Nixon started turning the tide in favor of the rich and every GOP administration since has piled on. Ronny Rayguns (as we used to call him) was the most egregious. I think that too many of the public officials are there to improve the lives of the moneyed folks who make the donations to keep them in office.

      “You’re only as happy as your most unhappy child” I’d never heard that before. It’s stuck with me, in a different context though. I have a good friend who’s fractured family situation embodies that statement.

      Stay well.

  5. I am often a silent reader of your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. I just wanted to say, thank you for sharing. Wish you and all your dear ones continue to stay safe.

    1. Paulie says:

      I thank you so much for this comment. To know that I’m touching someone is what makes this all worthwhile.
      You stay safe as well.

  6. Scott Blake says:

    Guys like Rand Paul probably have no problem with the absurd system that is the IRS. As you pointed out, so many ultra rich folks don’t pay. The former idiot in the Oval Office (so nice to be able to refer to him as former) managed to get a $70 million tax refund. Any taxation system that can allow that to happen is in need of repair or replacement. Those who rage against Socialism have no real idea what it is and what it is about.

    1. Paulie says:

      Rand Paul has a gigantic problem with the current system. As I noted, he’s more Libertarian than Republican.
      Examples of where he stands:
      Asked about an increase in child tax credits, he responded that it’s “giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment.”
      Paul is in favor of a flat tax. When told that a 14.5% tax would result in a family making from $50,000 to $75,000 getting a 3% rise in income and a family making more than $1 million a year getting a 13% rise in income, his response was, “Income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things.”
      Rand Paul is a physician by trade but his prospective patients should be happy he’s in another line. As a Libertarian he has no capacity for compassion.
      Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

  7. Amy says:

    So many, many people have been brainwashed and have no idea about the socialism, some of them even calls communism…
    Hubby and I both have been donated to our local food bank every month since last April. One of our neighbors twice a week leaves her house at 6 am to the food bank to help distribute food, she sees a long line of cars by 6:30. She also collects cloth and toys from us and take them to our local charity org. We normally buy gift cards from our local grocery store and send to these charities.
    Thank you for the post, Paulie.

    1. Paulie says:

      Hi Amy. Sorry for the late reply. We give and give and it never seems enough. Our country has to do better when it comes to providing opportunity.
      We also need to do better when it comes to teaching civics. We gave it up and now we’re paying with people not understanding how our government works. The socialism thing though, that’s been the bogeyman since before I was born…and that’s a long time.

      1. Amy says:

        Thank you for your response, Pauli. I probably overstated on my part. I majored history decades ago, so you can see why I’ve enjoyed reading your articles.

        1. Paulie says:

          Another History major. That was me. Santa Clara University, Class of 1976.

  8. The Dogfish says:

    Paulie, another great post. In response to the lady talking about how she is glad you’re not “focusing on yourself and your emotions” I’d like to disagree. I love when you talk about how you feel and mix it up with your great descriptions of your daily life and picture collections. It makes for a more varied and enjoyable read I think.

    You have a great style and don’t change anything about it. You’re my favorite blogger and I really get a lot of inspriation by the way you write. Hopefully someday I can be at your level, but until then I’ll just sit back and enjoy your work.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you for the kind words. I’m trying to make this blog a record of how people, me at least, felt through these strange times. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. Post more if you can.

Would love to hear from you

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