I’m reading: at the beginning of each story, below the country of origin and above the title is a line with a squiggle through it. It looks like this:


The squiggle is darker than the line and the left half of the squiggle is thinner and lighter than the right half, though my lack of drawing talent may give you a different impression.

I don’t like the squiggle. It looks like a piece of hair on the screen of my Kindle®. I sometimes try to brush it away and then blush when I realize my mistake. You won’t see me blush because I’m reading alone.

The stories are short, done in a flash, so there are lines and squiggles every few pages. It’s more annoying than you might imagine.I’m taking a break. I’m listening to Schubert’s Fantasia in C minor, it helps.

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Reflections on Earth Day

When a friend asks, “What’s wrong with the world?” You reply, “I am.”1

There was a Trader Joe’s orange juice carton on the corner of Boysenberry and Forbush. I walked past it for weeks wondering why nobody picked it up.

I like to consider myself green, an environmentalist, but I don't do it well. My wife is much more dedicated to the process than I am and my small successes I owe to her playful nagging. She often reminds me that the can or the box or the plastic I’m putting in the general trash bin belongs in the recycling bin.

Every time we go birding we see white plastic bags. We mistake them for owls and swans and geese. I tell my wife that we should make a point of picking up at least one of those bags each time we bird and put it in a recycling bin. But all we’ve done so far is talk about it.

I’m not alone, the Trader Joe’s organic juice carton that I finally picked up after weeks of walking past it is, a case in point. Was I just trying to burnish my environmental credentials, or make the neighborhood a better place? Perhaps it was a David Sedaris’s essay that was the catalyst for my good deed.

David, who lives in West Sussex England, combines a Fitbit fetish with trash collection in his essay Stepping Out He spends hours each day collecting trash on roads near his home, and now his local council is naming a garbage truck after him.

Recycling isn’t walking the same mile and a half every day and looking at the same Trader Joe’s organic juice carton on the corner of Boysenberry and Forbush nor is it mistaking white plastic bags for birds.

Recycling is when you bend over pick it up put it in a recycling bin.

Maybe I'm a nascent environmentalist. If I’m green, it's a pale green not the forest green I want to be.

  1. David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman
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Take a Load Off

A strange thing happened at our monthly cousin’s lunch.

After we all had arrived, Dave, Doug, Wayne, Janna, Jerry, Jeff, and myself, a waitress came and asked what we would like to drink. She could have offered suggestions, a menu of drink options, but she didn’t increasing the cognitive load1 on each of us.

She started with Doug. He usually just has water, and so It was no surprise when he confirmed that water was all he needed.

What happened next was surprising. Doug had made it easy to avoid the additional mental effort needed to decide on a drink with his choice of water. Wayne seated next to Doug also ordered water and then Jerry joined them “Water,” he said. Janna sitting next to Jerry echoed his choice of water. Jeff, Jerry’s son, paused but kept the water flowing.

I couldn’t believe it. Did they believe the eight glasses of water a day myth? Had they forgotten that coffee has water too, and a nice little kick of caffeine. Iced tea and diet coke are also mostly water, hell even a potato is mainly water. Maybe they were trying to save a buck. The water is free.

I was having none of it. “I’ll have a diet coke and coffee, and a beer,” I said.

My order lightened the cognitive load and opened the floodgates.

I’ll have coffee with cream,” Janna gushed.

Jeff seized the opportunity and ordered a diet coke.

David, amused by the unexpected turnaround, began requesting order changes from others. Jerry decided tea would be dandy.

The waitress looked confused, it had gone from the simple cascade of water orders to an out of order babbling of other beverage choices. My work done, I canceled the beer and the diet coke and confirmed that I take my coffee black.

Jerry, seeing the waitress panicking, promised to sort out the orders when they arrived. She looked relieved.

The difficult work of deciding on drinks behind us we relaxed.

cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. ↩

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Price Check

I hate price checks they usually happen when you’re in a hurry. I don’t know which is worse being the cause of the price check or in line behind one. They are something to avoid, but there ’s no reliable way to know until the scanner doesn’t scan, and then it’s too late.
I only have a few items. The Dream Cicle bars scans, but then the first of the frozen fruit for smoothies fails. He sets it aside. The same thing happens with the second and third packages. He scans a TV dinner and the reassuring beep sounds. There is one smoothie pack left.
“I’m not even going to scan it,” he says
“You should,” I say
“That one is going to scan,” I say
He looks to see if I’m serious,
I repeat “you really ought to scan it.”
He isn’t buying it, but he picks up the package and waves it at the scanner. We all hear the successful beep. I’m as surprised as anyone, but I keep my straight face and my knowing smile intact.
He can’t believe it
He looks at the others in line they’re gobsmacked
I saved you a price check,” I say
The checker shakes his head. The others in line laugh. I turn and leave.

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I’m Not Dead Yet

It’s good news. I’ll never die. My cousin Jerry didn’t put it quite that way, but that’s the jist of what he said. I learned this at lunch a couple of Fridays ago. Once a month we, the cousins, get together for lunch and to catch up on this and that. During lunch, I mentioned that about 18 % of my high school graduating class is now dead. Jerry sells insurance and is familiar with life expectancy tables. He said that makes sense you’re 70. I wasn’t wearing a Monty Python “I’m Not Dead Yet” t-shirt, so it’s understandable that he didn’t know that 70 is still months away. Not wearing the t-shirt was a mistake but telling him that I had one, a little lie, made me fill better, not immortal but better. The hope of immortality came later after a discussion of actuarial tables.

It’s promising, this recalculation of life expectancy business. If you’re 70 you have 14.07 years to live but If you make it to 71 you still have 13.4 years left. You’ve lost less than a year, and it keeps getting better. At 80, the tables say you have 5.78 years but when as I intend to make it to 81 it is 5.34, and you’ve lost less than half a year. And If you make it to 97, like my aunt, and why not, your life expectancy will be 2.47. And then on your next birthday it will still be 2.34, and you have hardly lost any time at all.

You can see where I’m going with this, life expectancy according to this theory is not linear and if that’s true it may follow that I’m immortal. I’m sure my cousin will disabuse me of this notion, but I don’t intend to let it go easily.

It’s a paradox not unlike those of the Greek Philosopher Zeno, and as we know and contrary to what Zeno postulated, rabbits catch and then pass tortoises all the time. And we also know that death travels with us and will one day claim us, just not this day we hope.

I should probably let the Olympus High class of 63 in on the secret. The tables predict that we have 14 more reunions to organize and attend, and ten years from now we will still have approximately six to go. So we will have already passed the expected 14 reunions and should we reach 27 reunions, and why not, we will still have a couple more and each of those counts as fewer than one. It may just be that Titans too are immortal.

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Bad Puns

You’re never safe from a bad pun. We were on our morning walk when we passed the Price’s house. The Prices live next door to Ozzie and Sasha, the Poodles.
“You remember the Prices, don’t you?” she said.
“Noah, their son was Tim’s age.”
“He still is,” I said.
“Is what?” she said.
“Still Tim’s age,” I said.
She snorted; I wasn’t sure how to take it. Was she saying, really do I have to listen to this crap or did she find it funny? I continued.
“I wonder,” I said.
She looked at me then looked away.
“I wonder when Tim and Noah were classmates, and the teacher asked Noah a question and Noah answered correctly. Did the teacher acknowledge him, did she say “The Price is Right.”
“Bad,” she said, “bad pun.”

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Dead or Alive?

We don’t know what to say, my wife and I, when we see our neighbor working in his yard.  It’s his wife.  We haven’t seen her in months and fear she’s dead. And we don’t know how to raise the subject tactfully. We never see/saw her as often as we see/saw him, but sometimes like last fall we saw them both walking together in the neighborhood.  Is she dead now? Are they divorced?  Is she housebound?  Is she living in a nursing home, or hospice?

We’ve talked about what we might say to him to unravel our doubts.  How’s your wife, to which he replies, dead thinking us inconsiderate. Maybe we could say haven’t seen your wife much how’s she doing but of course but that suffers from the same problem, if she’s dead she’s dead. Perhaps how’s your family, though he might say fine meaning they’ve come to terms with her demise. Or he could mean fine, that they’re all fine including his wife. He might answer that it’s been hard, but again that doesn’t answer the question is she dead or alive.

We could ask one of our neighbors who go to their church. They would know but might think less of us because we weren’t even aware that our neighbor’s wife is dead, or that he divorced her, or she’s housebound or in a nursing home. I suppose it doesn’t matter we’ve never been close other than greeting them when we see them in their yard or on the street. And we do know one thing. She’s most certainly either dead or alive.

Or maybe like Schrödinger’s cat she’s both dead and alive at the same time and hold up inside the box they call home. And we won’t know which until we open the front door and look inside.

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