Waiting for the Unemployment Extension? Don’t Bother Checking Your Mailbox

My mother, who recently turned 80 and enjoys Hannity, Limbaugh and the rest of the conservative pundits on daytime radio, believes that the federal unemployment extension has passed in Congress and that the checks will be in the mail shortly.

Um, Mom?  I’m not holding my breath.

I hear it’s getting nasty, and not just on Capitol Hill either.  Inflammatory name-calling abounds.  Apparently, either you’re a “conservatard” or a “libtard.”  Wowzers, this unemployment thing sure has become a hot-button issue.

This should come as no surprise.  More than a million unemployed Americans lost their checks when the enabling legislation for federal benefit extensions expired three days after Christmas.  As most of them are still out of work, that’s January, February and March without any income.

This is part of the problem with the Senate bill to extend benefits, according to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).  If both houses of Congress were to pass the bill, unemployment checks would need to be provided retroactively to those who were cut off in December.  This would leave state governments with an administrative nightmare, according to Boehner, who believes that the states’ often antiquated data processing systems are incapable of making retroactive payments without creating openings for massive fraud.  Interestingly, some of the states with the highest rates of unemployment, including New York and Boehner’s home state of Ohio, roundly deny this line of reasoning.  Show us the money, they say, and we’ll take care of getting it distributed.  Then again, there are those states (including some of the poorest ones, such as Mississippi) that are happy to go along with Boehner’s ruse because they simply do not want to have to deal with passing out the money.

But Boehner, who has characterized the Senate bill as unworkable, has voiced a second objection: It fails to include any provisions to create jobs in the private sector.  In other words, why bother providing handouts when there are no jobs to be had and the recipients of government largesse are just going to run through their checks and need more?  (raising my hand)  Ooo, ooo, teacher, I know!  How about because we need to feed our families and keep a roof over their heads?

It would be easy to characterize Boehner’s smokescreen as a means of mollifying the Tea Party conservatives in his caucus and hence keeping his speakership.  But it goes beyond that.  Sure, Republicans gripe about how we’ve become “a nation of takers” and how government “handouts” merely perpetuate the cycle of dependence and a mindset of entitlement. However, the bottom line seems to be that representatives of both parties continue to demonstrate a lack of sufficient intestinal fortitude to engage in the type of fracas over the issue that the Senate has dragged itself through in the past three months.  The facts that children are going to be without food and that families will be rendered homeless have been reduced to meaningless details, apparently.

Now that five Republican senators have agreed to vote in favor of the unemployment extension bill (deciding, as one editorial put it, that “the time for callousness has run out”), it appears poised to pass in that august body on Monday morning.  Of course, anything is possible.  If even one of those five craps out at the last minute, the measure won’t have enough votes to survive a filibuster.

Not that it really matters.  The Senate gets a feather in its cap, sure.  Senate Democrats can rejoice in a hard-fought win and Republicans can crow about how, against their better judgment, they allowed their values to be compromised in order to bail out those of their fellow Americans who are in the direst of straits.  Senators can play the role of the good guys and point their collective fingers at the bad boys and girls of the House of Representatives, who (at least if Boehner has his way) are likely to prevent the unemployment extension bill from ever coming to a vote.

Meanwhile, those of us who have been out of work for more than six months get nothing.

 

References

Delaney, Arthur, “House GOP Says It’s Too Late to Pass an Unemployment Extension,” huffingtonpost.com (March 27, 2014).

Everett, Burgess, “Senate Advances Jobless Aid,” politico.com (March 27, 2014).

Firestone, David, “Despite a Senate Deal, the Jobless Still Wait for Aid,”  The New York Times (Taking Note, March 14, 2014).

Fram, Alan, “Boehner Questions Senate Unemployment Deal,” Boston Globe (Associated Press, March 14, 2014).

 

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Homeless Behind Bars

So our homeless friend has landed in jail.  I knew it was just a matter of time, but this still saddens me.

In some respects I suppose he’s better off in custody.  It’s been raining all week; at least there he’ll stay dry and be fed regularly.  Three hots and a cot.

I’m sure he’s not happy about how things have turned out.  After all, he enjoys his freedom and doesn’t like to follow rules.  This is one of the reasons that he continues to refuse our counsel to take advantage of the services of the local homeless shelter.

I hear they got him for violation of probation.  It’s got to be tough for a guy who lives in a tent and has no money to get several miles up the freeway and into town to show up for regular appointments with his probation officer.  Then again, I’ve seen him on a bicycle, so perhaps it’s not a transportation issue.  He may just be tired of having to report every week.  It’s got to get old after a while, particularly for someone who isn’t into rules.  At some point, perhaps you just say “screw it” and accept whatever consequences attach.

Our friend constantly shows up at the parsonage asking for food, money or the key to the church rest room.  He tells us all kinds of stories and lies, when we know full well that what he needs money for is cigarettes and beer.

We’ve gone around and around in circles with this guy.  For a while, we allowed him to stay overnight in the church rest room until an unfortunate series of events prevented us from extending this courtesy any longer.  First, a most unpleasant confrontation ensued when churchgoers were unable to gain access to the rest room one Sunday morning because he was hunkered down in there.  Then we discovered that allowing him to use the rest room as a temporary overnight shelter violated the church’s insurance policy.  We told him he couldn’t stay in the rest room anymore, but we still allowed him in to use the facilities.  Finally, Pastor Mom was restocking supplies in the rest room one day when she discovered that our friend had left his sleeping bag and a long knife under the sink.  We were lucky that a little kid attending church with his parents hadn’t found it first.  Pastor Mom told him that he had violated our trust and was not welcome here anymore.  He asked us where he was supposed to go to pee and she explained that it’s not our problem.

But my mother-in-law has a soft heart.  Eventually, she relented and again allowed him to use the church rest room to relieve himself.

Since then, our friend has been over here quite often.  If it’s in the morning, we invite him in for coffee and toast.  If it’s in the evening, we feed him dinner.

For the last few weeks, we’ve had volunteers here performing renovation work on the church social hall nearly every day.  Pastor Mom has gone to a lot of effort and expense to cook and serve them lunch.  One day, our friend appeared just when the workers were eating.  He said he was hungry, so we gave him a hot dog in a bun, a package of crackers and a cold bottle of water.  His reaction?  “Well, it’s better than nothing.”

Hopefully, the food is better in jail.  Ingratitude has a nasty way of complicating one’s innate charitable urges.  You want to do the right thing but, holy mackerel, it’s tough sometimes.

Earlier this week, Pastor Mom was away visiting a friend for a few days.  Our homeless guy came by to use the rest room and we gave him the key to unlock it.  We reminded him to lock it back up when he was done.  Apparently, he didn’t, as we found his bicycle on the property next morning.  I went to unlock the rest room so that the arriving workers could use it.  It was locked from the inside.  Our friend shouted through the door that he was in the middle of “changing.”  I suppose he was referring to his clothes, not his behavior.

I have no way of proving it, but I’m sure he deliberately left the rest room unlocked after he used it so that he could stay there all night.  I suppose it’s preferable to a wet tent.

That evening, our friend came by to apologize, stating that he was just in there “to wash up and shave.”  I used a harsh tone with him, explaining that he was given permission to use the rest room to pee only.

I told Pastor Mom that I knew this would happen once she relented and allowed him to start using the church rest room again.

“What would God do?” she asked.

“Invite him in and allow him to sleep on the couch,” was my answer.

Pastor Mom responded that she always does the best she knows how to do at the time.  And I agree. All we can do is the best we can come up with at any given moment.

I’m sorry that our homeless friend is in jail.  Checking the sheriff’s website, I see that he is being held without bail.  Visitors are allowed for one hour, twice per week.  The next visiting hour is on Sunday, and I suggested to my wife that we go see him.  After all, the worst thing about being in jail is feeling alone and forgotten.

My wife doesn’t understand why I want to visit “when I was so mean to him the other night.”  I attempted, not very successfully, to explain that there is a difference between being firm and being mean.  If I had called the cops on him, that would have been mean.

Turns out that wasn’t necessary.  I guess his probation officer had the sheriffs pick up our friend when he failed to show.

Even though this is his second probation violation, I’ll be surprised if he does as much as thirty days behind bars.  Then he’ll be out and back sleeping in his tent and begging us to use the rest room so he doesn’t have to risk arrest for peeing in public.  Until the next time he violates probation and makes another pass through those revolving jail doors.

And so it goes, on and on.  Is there any hope for breaking the vicious cycle that is homelessness?

 

A Nation of Givers

Along with the disadvantages inherent in poverty, there are certain advantages of being unemployed.  Chief among these is the fact that your time is your own.  As you’re not selling your time and energy to an employer (or to “the man,” as some would style it), you can do pretty much anything you want to do.  As long as it doesn’t cost money, that is.

Having plenty of time but no money certainly does make one stop and smell the roses.  I get to play endless games of “Boo!” with my little grandniece.  (Turns out her time is her own, too.)  I get to bake cookies with my niece on a weekday afternoon just because I found this cool vegan recipe on a blog that I follow.  And then I get to combine all these pleasures by sitting in the living room with my niece and grandniece, discussing theories of sociology with the former and sharing the freshly-baked cookies with the latter.

It’s a lot like being a kid again.

While I’m explaining the basics of regression analysis to my niece, I can’t help but feel that a part of me is regressing to an earlier time in my life.  Little One hands me (Curious) George, her stuffed monkey, and I make a big show of hugging him as a means of demonstrating my worthiness as designated (zoo)keeper of her favorite plush primate.

I get to push her around WinCo in a grocery cart, pretending to be a racecar driver while singing “Alouette,” much to the amusement of some of my fellow shoppers.

My wife and I get to pick up our niece and her daughter early in the morning, driving the former to the local community college and entertaining the latter for the remainder of the day and into the evening.

We get to see entirely too many episodes of Sesame Street, read the same picture books over and over again and teach the finer points of dipping French fries into ketchup.

I get to sing songs from my childhood that I hadn’t thought of in half a century, amazed when all the lyrics come back to me as if it were yesterday.

Tomorrow, I think Little One and I will whip up a batch of guacamole.  Those avocados are almost ripe now.

Uncle Guac has no clue what he is doing, but he’s having entirely too much fun doing it.  Now that he has the time to do it, that is.

So, yes, writers such as Nicholas Eberstadt point out that public funds spent on social welfare entitlements (from unemployment benefits to SSDI to Medicare to Obamacare) have increased from one-third of all federal spending to two-thirds thereof in the past fifty years.  Bemoaning the rise of the welfare state and what he sees as the “moral crisis” that is the death of the American Dream, Eberstadt refers to us as “a nation of takers.”  Ignoring the suffering endured by those whom the tanking American economy has left behind, he insists that men in their prime have lost their will to work and are perfectly content to leech off the public fisc.

Well, I only have three unemployment checks left, Mr. Eberstadt, but I’m still here.  And so is my wife, my mother-in-law, my niece and my nephew, none of us gainfully employed at this time.

And unless John Boehner and the Tea Party Republicans remove their heads from their respective asses soon, I won’t be “taking” a few weeks from now.

No matter what happens, though, I will still be giving.  Of my time, my energies and my love.  Because now I have the time to do so.  In between sending out endless résumés and receiving no response.

Yes, indeed, there are a lot us these days:  The silent nation of givers.  We are still here, and we’re not going anywhere.

By the way, Mr. Eberstadt, there’s someone I’d like you to meet up here in Yuba County.  She’ll be 18 months old on Friday.

Hope you can make it.  And why don’t you bring Mr. Boehner along while you’re at it?

 

Of Trains and Tragedy

There’s been quite a bit of sadness and mourning going on in our little town.

Two train accidents have occurred in our immediate area in the past month.  One was probably a suicide, the other a tragedy involving two teenagers.

About four weeks ago, a woman reportedly sitting on the tracks a few blocks from here was killed when the train couldn’t stop in time.  And then there was last night.  Two students walking to a local dance crossed the train tracks as so many locals do without a second thought.  The engineer said he blew his horn repeatedly and applied the air brakes but was unable to stop before running over them.

I wish I knew something about the woman who was in such pain that she felt the need to end her life on the tracks.  Did a relationship go sour?  Were her children horrible to her?  Was she unemployed and in debt?  Was she homeless and alone?  Was she suffering from drug addiction or mental health problems or both?  Living here in the parsonage of a church, we are no strangers to such issues.  I woke up from a sound sleep the other day because a woman was sobbing loudly in our living room and Pastor Mom was attempting to comfort her.  Trying to remain inconspicuous to avoid further embarrassment to her, through her tears I heard bits and pieces about someone leaving her knowing she can’t pay the rent and someone else making up stories about her.  Problems likely not very different from those experienced by the woman who sat down on the tracks.

The newspapers and local authorities won’t identify the minors who were killed over here last night, but just about everyone in this area is on Facebook and Twitter so the word gets around.  They were both sixteen years old and in high school.  Just a typical teenage couple heading to a dance.  He was killed instantly.  The word on social media is that she survived only because he pushed her out of the direct path of the train.  Rumor is that one of the train’s wheels ran over her anyway and that she has lost her arm.

There are no words for this.  I didn’t know any of the people involved, but my heart goes out to their families.

So what is the answer?  Better access to mental health care for those who most need it and can least afford it?  Mandatory fences on the railroad’s right-of-way?

I had two close calls with trains in my younger days, one in a vehicle (that someone else was driving) and one on foot.  Many years have gone by since I lived in a place such as this where so many freight trains pass back and forth over multiple tracks at all hours of the day and night.  In the New York town in which I grew up, there were trains that passed through the center of town.  By the time I was in high school, however, the train no longer came through town and the tracks were abandoned.  More recently, we lived out in the desert on the Arizona/California border, where the tracks running through town were similarly abandoned.

Passenger trains are a thing of the past.  I’ve ridden Amtrak on several occasions, but they are constantly on the brink of bankruptcy and survive only due to government bailouts.  Freight trains seem, at least to me, like an anachronism that belongs to this country’s past.  With most goods transported by tractor trailer or air, I question whether freight trains still have a place in our modern economy.  The objection I hear is that certain goods can be effectively transported only in large rail cars.  I say that if we can save so many lives a year by eliminating freight trains, then paying higher prices for those goods seems to be a more than fair tradeoff.

At the very least, grade crossings should be outlawed.  Railroads wishing to have their tracks  pass through populated areas should be required to construct high trestle bridges for their trains to pass over.  As rail transportation is a matter of federal law in the United States, I would suggest that you write to your senator and congressperson to express your feelings on this issue.  If we continue to feel that there is nothing that can be done about it, then nothing ever will be done about it.

I am convinced that those who are hellbent on committing suicide are going to do so one way or the other.  But to have train tracks running through the middle of town so that it is inconvenient for kids to do anything other than walk over them to get from Point A to Point B is unconscionable.

Update, March 30: My niece and her teenaged friends tell me that the young couple on the tracks had made a suicide pact in a sad Romeo and Juliet parody that concerned parental disapproval of their interracial dating. My niece says that only the surviving girl knows the whole truth and that she’s likely to commit suicide before she talks. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?

Jumping Through Hoops

Applying for management positions is not for the faint of heart.  I sometimes think that prospective employers make applicants jump through so many hoops just to see how badly you want the position.  Or maybe they put us through this just because they can.  And believe me, they can.  It’s a buyer’s market right now in the United States and employers can have their pick.  Middle managers are a dime a dozen.

Each time you apply for a management position, you can know with confidence that you will be competing with hundreds of other applicants.  You want your résumé to stand out from the crowd, but if it’s too flashy or trashy it will end up dumped in the circular file.

Pastor Mom has a friend visiting with us this week; she asked me whether I am able to send out the same cover letter and résumé for each position for which I apply.  No, no, no… That would be far too easy.  Employers want us to jump through hoops, remember?  Get ready to perform a circus act for their amusement.  For example:  Even though the years in which you started and left each job are clearly listed on your résumé, one employer wants you to list the exact number of months for which you’ve held each job (apparently they can’t be bothered to do the math), while another wants you to list both the starting salary and the ending salary for each job and a third wants you to list the number of employees supervised at each job.

Then you’re supposed to list the name of each of your direct supervisors, along with an address and a phone number at which they can be reached.  This may seem like a simple request, but if you have a lengthy work history as I do, it’s not.  I worked for one company for 8½ years, during which time I must have had at least five or six different supervisors.  After all, different companies were involved.  Although I stayed put, state law required that the work be put out to bid every few years, giving me a new boss and a different color paycheck each time the contractor changed.  Even if I could remember the names of all my supervisors from fifteen years ago (which I can’t), how am I supposed to get them all to fit in that little bitty space?  Continuing with the circus theme, now we’re moving on from jumping through hoops to stuffing 23 clowns in a VW Bug.  And, come on, you know that most of these people are no longer with the company.  Who knows where they’ve since gone or how to contact them?  And do you think they’ll really remember me?  I know for a fact that some of them are retired or dead.  Should I provide the address and phone number of Queen of Heaven Cemetery as if I were trying to brush off some creep ogling for my digits?

This doesn’t even begin to account for my former employers that have since gone out of business or have been bought out by other companies.  I started keeping a notebook with the addresses and phone numbers of my old jobs (because I got sick and tired of looking them up online all the time).  Many of those addresses are different than the locations at which I worked way back when.  Building leases run out, cheaper rental opportunities turn up and next thing you know, the company has moved.  Now that I no longer look up addresses each time I fill out an application, I don’t even know whether the information that I am providing is current.  Imagine my shock when I recently learned that a county in which I lived for a couple of decades now has a different area code.  So even though some of these places were still in the same physical location, their phone numbers had changed.

And if you apply for a job that requires a government security clearance (and many of them do due to federal contract requirements), applicants must list every home address at which they have resided since the age of 18.  Um, let’s see now:  There was New York, then Rhode Island, then back to New York, then Massachusetts, then back to New York again, then three different places in Connecticut, a couple of addresses in California, then Connecticut and Massachusetts again, then finally back to California for good, where I moved around the state oh, maybe six or seven times?  “If you need more space, use additional sheets of paper.”  No shit.

Of course, there is a large box in which you’re supposed to write a description of your duties at each of your previous jobs.  Most applications include a bold warning “DO NOT write ‘See résumé.’  A résumé will not be accepted in lieu of a completed application.”  This means that, although you’re supplying a résumé that already contains all this information, it is necessary to retype it.  However, the box never contains enough room for this purpose.  This leaves the applicant with the choice of adding additional pages and attaching them as a separate file in Microsoft Word (or converting them to Adobe), or printing out the page, filling in the details by hand and scanning it.  Either way makes for a lovely way to spend a pleasant evening.

Then there’s the “education” section of the application.  Providing the names, locations and dates of graduation from each college you’ve attended is fairly standard (although I object to this because it then becomes a simple matter to determine the applicant’s age and discriminate accordingly).  But you will hear me let out an audible groan when a form requires that the applicant list not only major subject studied, but also grade point average and class standing.  This is no small feat when you consider that I have attended six different institutions of higher education.  I had to order transcripts from each school (I mean, get real, who remembers this stuff?), which is not free of charge.  Finally, I got tired of consulting six transcripts and just made up a little grid from which to copy.

Well, I thought I had the “education” section all locked up.  Until last night, that is.  I completed an online application for employment that required applicants to list the number of credits completed in each subject studied.  So there I went pawing through the transcripts again, using a calculator to add up credits for sociology, psychology, political science, law, mathematics, English, business, economics and a bunch of other stuff.  I was extremely grateful that I was not asked to list the fact that I received passing grades in both badminton and tennis in my freshman year of college and that I successfully participated in both the choir and woodwinds.

Then you come to what is always my favorite part, the essays.  Some employers require applicants for management positions to write as many as a dozen of them, detailing such things as philosophy of management, experience with conflict resolution, knowledge of production statistics, contract negotiation skills, experience in writing white papers and delivering persuasive speeches, and projects worked on that required assembling a multidisciplinary team and achieving consensus.  Better block out a few hours for writing these.

Well, I’d better go now.  You see, I have an application essay awaiting me.  It may only run to a maximum of two pages in an 11 point font with one-inch margins.  In the space allowed, I am to describe the details of how it is that I meet each of the dozen qualities required in the candidate selected for this position, including “sense of humor.”

Yeah, right.

 

Remember That Car You Used to Have?

My first new car, purchased with savings from my first real job (working the night shift for minimum wage doesn’t count) and help from Dad, was a 1984 Pontiac Bonneville.  Two-tone green.  Racing stripe right down the middle of that baby.  Faux wood grain dash.  Cassette deck.  I thought I was hot shit.

My sister, who had just graduated from college, bought her first new car right about the same time.  Hers was a shiny red Dodge.  She wanted four on the floor and air conditioning.  I wanted an automatic and was unwilling to pay for air conditioning.  Both vehicles had to be special ordered.

As my vehicle arrived first, I loaned my brand new car out to Sis on a few occasions so that she was not stuck at home all the time.  Following one such occasion, I told her about a dream I had.  In the dream, my sister walked in the door and handed me a curious looking item that I was unable to identify.  “What’s this?” I asked.  “Remember that car you used to have?” she asked.  “This is what’s left of it.”  And just before I woke up, I recognized two small lines that may once have been green racing stripes.

My sister, ever the good sport, was able to laugh about this.  Truth is that she is an excellent driver and that I never had anything to worry about.  Mean Green Bonny lived a good long life and finally gave up the ghost after three long years of ferrying me back and forth between law school in Massachusetts and home in New York.

But today, it is with sadness that I announce the demise of my current vehicle, a thirteen year old Mercury Grand Marquis. Once my parents’ car, it was passed on to us after having acquired more than 100,000 miles in the course of being driven across the country on several occasions.  Just as many people as admired my wife’s Kia made fun of the Mercury.  It looks like an old grandpa’s car.  Hey, why are you driving a cop car?

But good old Whitey II served me faithfully for more than four years.  With over 160,000 miles on the engine, it still could haul up the Grapevine with the air conditioning blasting.  It survived three years in the desert, by which I mean three years of being parked on the street in the searing 120°F heat, being repeatedly dusted by blowing sand.

Yes, there was a Whitey I, my late vehicle’s predecessor.  Another white Mercury, we parted ways when it was given over to be crushed and destroyed in the “cash for clunkers” program, which helped us to purchase the Kia.

As for Whitey II, we took good care of it, hoping it would last us a good long while.  We had it serviced regularly – oil, tires, brakes, the works.  Alas, all good things come to an end, the best laid plans of mice and men notwithstanding.

Shortly after I was laid off from my job at the end of September, we left the desert and moved in with family in rural northern California.  My niece, who had just started community college, was struggling with bumming rides to class.  She was able to buy an old hoopdie that had two strikes against it:  It was on its last legs and my teenaged niece didn’t take care of it.  Without a father to teach her the rudiments of automobile maintenance, what can you expect?

As I have been unemployed for quite a while now, we saw no reason not to lend Whitey II out to my niece so that she could get back and forth to classes.  I’d rather not know all the gory details of how my poor Mercury met its demise, but I hear it has something to do with the car in front of it stopping while Whitey just kept right on going.  Crunch!

You will be missed, Whitey.  I am sorry that I didn’t take you through the car wash a little more often and that I took you for granted all those years of driving me back and forth to work every day.

Well done, faithful servant.  Well done.

 

Mom’s Birthday

birthday cake - March 2014

MODESTO

There is an eerie feeling of the past returning to haunt you when you enter a restaurant in which you haven’t set foot in years and are seated at the very table at which you often sat all those years ago.

We used to live here, but that was three moves ago.  When my wife and I were first married, this was one of our regular places.  It wasn’t unusual for us to recognize people we knew as they were heading out the door or hurrying past our table on the way to the rest room.  And as we ordered our coffee and tea and appetizers, I could feel the ghosts of meals past that populate this place.  The time that my niece dined with us and challenged my Jewish rejection of the divinity of Jesus.  The time we ran into one of my bosses not long before she was fired and, soon after, died.

We were celebrating my mother’s eightieth birthday, albeit in a much more low-key manner than we marked the same milestone for my father back in November.

It is difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that both my parents are now octogenarians.  They don’t seem to fit the profile, either in visage or in spirit.  They still perform physical labor on their land, build and fix things, travel all over to visit their children and grandchildren.

It’s more than that, of course.  At some level, we continue to see our parents as we did when we were children, regardless of intervening time and tide.  In our hearts, they will always be young and vital, as when they were the primary influence on our lives as impressionable infants and toddlers and school-age children.

My father removes a black and white photo from his wallet and passes it around.  My parents standing next to an old car, about a year and a half before they were married.  Age seventeen.  The same age that my niece is now.

We place the candles with the numbers 8 and 0 on the cake, light them, sing when Mom blows them out.  She will reenact the same ritual tomorrow in the Bay Area with two of her grandchildren.  My sisters, who reside in Texas and New Mexico, couldn’t make it.

As Mom opens the gifts (a wind chime in the shape of a bird, gardening gloves, a planter, a knitting bag), I can’t help but reflect on how many more of these times we will have together.  We want to believe that these celebratory occasions will just go on and on forever, but we know better.  Try to live in the moment, I tell myself.  Enjoy it while you can.

My mother can be a difficult person.  But I know that I have likely tried her patience at least as much as she has tried mine.  Today, she is in a delightfully upbeat mood, complains about nothing, does not bicker with my father.

As the party breaks up, we say we will see each other again next month, making tentative plans for Passover.  My mother continues to express bewilderment at my vegan ways; I try to make menu suggestions.

And then it is all over and we walk out to the cars together, some of us heading north, some of us heading south.  We have met halfway to celebrate this birthday, and it is then that I realize that we will meet halfway in all things for the rest of our days.  My mother tells me about her computer problems and laughs when I tell her about the Yiddish song I have been singing to my little grandniece.

As we prepare to part ways, she presses something into my hand, makes a mumbled remark about gas.  When I join my wife in the car, I open my palm to find three folded twenty dollar bills.