THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2020)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns or, worse, their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

Robert Johnson
Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. A complete stranger paid tribute to Jim in 2018 on the date of his death. You can read my post about it here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.

*YOUR* GOOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

There have been many collective revelations over the past several weeks, but a new appreciation for teachers certainly ranks near the top.  Parents who have been required to work from home, with all the technological hiccups that engenders, have also been expected to home school their children.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that wine sales have soared in the past two months.  If I were the head of the teacher’s union I’d be forming a strategy for pay raises.  In fact, low pay was one of the primary reasons I decided not to become a teacher.  That, and I have little patience, which seems to be a requirement for working with six year old children.  Twenty years ago I was president of a non-profit organization that paired business people with local elementary schools.  We spent an hour a week reading to an underperforming child.  I loved it and an hour a week was enough to scratch my teacher itch.  But once a year we “played” at being the principal for a day.  I shadowed the principal, dealt with teacher/student issues, heard about heart-breaking home situations from CPS and tried to reconcile the annual budget.  I couldn’t even make it a full day.  After four hours I fled back to my comfortable office.  I am not proud of that, but it forever cemented for me that I had made the right career decision.

I had some good and bad teachers over the years.  I suspect that’s true for everyone.  Like any other profession, there is a wide range of talent and effectiveness among educators.  I was lucky enough to have three teachers whose examples, guidance and talent have stuck with me all my life.  Of the three, the very best was my high school English teacher, Bette Reese.  Until I landed in her class I was a middling student, with low self-confidence and grades to match.  I was more focused on boys and socializing than schoolwork.  Ms. Reese was a task master, constantly correcting grammar, spelling and composition.  She introduced me to Hemingway, Camus and Dostoevsky – pretty heady stuff for a high school junior.  I so wanted to please her that I found myself working harder and – miracle of miracles  – I became an “A” student.  Ms. Reese and I formed a friendship – I introduced her to Rod McKuen, the poet laureate of 60’s pop culture, and she took me under her wing, helping me to better appreciate good writing and the importance of using correct grammar.  I was lucky enough to be in her Advanced English class my Senior year, where my education was further honed by her unrelenting, steely resolve to make something of me.

 

I’ve been thinking of Ms. Reese during this lock-down as I have spent more time watching the news and reading social media.  I’ve been appalled by the number of people unable to write a cogent sentence.  In general, I am a bit of a stickler for grammar (although regular readers of this blog can attest that I make quite a few errors), but I’ve been brought to the brink of insanity the past two months.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – they are all swamplands of bad grammar.   The most common mistake I see is people confusing “your” with “you’re”.  Clearly they were behind the schoolhouse door the day that contractions were discussed.  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has posted “Your the best” or “Your going to love this!”.  Ugh. There is no escaping the your/you’re error.  We received an invitation to a tony club opening in Northern California where the front of the card screamed, “YOUR INVITED”.  How many managers had to review that advertisement before it went to the printer?  I decided if they weren’t smart enough to know the English language I wasn’t dumb enough to give them my money.   TV news readers make so many grammatical errors that I can’t decide whether they skipped journalism school altogether or their scripts are written by a third grade dropout.  Whatever the excuse, it’s clear they never learned the difference between “well” and “good”. The reports on the COVID pandemic have generated a common question asked of or by reporters: “How are you doing?”.  About 1,000 times in the past two months the answer has been, “I’m doing good.”.  OMG – NO!  “Good” is used only as an adjective, as in, she makes a good Christmas cookie.  “Well” is an adjective or adverb, as in, I don’t feel well after eating her damned Christmas cookie.  

I wish everyone had been fortunate enough to have had a Ms. Reese in their lives.  There is nothing better than a teacher who instills an appreciation for a subject that gets buried deep in your soul.  Ms. Reese left my high school two years after I graduated and became an English and Journalism professor at College of Marin.  She eventually became the faculty advisor to the student newspaper where no doubt she used her magic on many aspiring journalists.  Sadly, Bette Reese died in 1979 at the age of 44 from pancreatic cancer.  To this day the college awards the Bette Reese Memorial Scholarship to a talented journalism student.  I can only hope they are maintaining her high standards, but I’m not optimistic.  If Ms. Reese were still alive she could make a fortune correcting the grammar of most journalists.  But I guess the point of a good teacher is that we carry on for them, sharing the knowledge they so generously shared with us.  So in the name of Bette Reese I’m going to continue to scream at the infractions on the news channels and social media.  Somewhere, somehow, I just know Ms. Reese is cheering me on.

AND NOW…THE NEWS…THE GOOD NEWS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Tyler Merrill

These past weeks have been trying…trying to kill us, trying our patience and trying to test our resolve.  Shoot – bad news was easy to come by even before COVID-19 hit us.  When is the last time you read a paper or watched the news and felt better afterwards?  My guess is it was sometime in the 80’s.  Which is why I want to devote today’s post to just that – people who give us something to cheer about.  I was inspired about a month ago, at the beginning of the virus outbreak, when I saw an interview with Tyler Merrill, the CEO of a clothing company, who stopped all production to focus on making medical grade masks for hospital workers.  He was appalled at the price gouging and competitive out-bidding going on and decided to take matters into his own hands to produce N-95 grade masks.  I was impressed by his generous effort.  His interview recalled something I know down deep – how good the ordinary, everyday citizens are in this country.  I felt bad that I needed reminding but it felt good to know that spirit still exists.  And then last week I discovered John Krasinski’s Good News Channel (or SGN as he calls it) on YouTube and my confidence is the goodness of people was solidified.

A Classic

In full disclosure, I have been in love with John Krasinski since his character, Jim Halpert, encased Dwight Schrute’s stapler in a mound of gleaming lime Jello on the first episode of The Office.  I’ve followed his career and enjoyed his personal high jinks, most notably his “prank wars” with Jimmy Kimmel.  If you need a laugh look them up on You Tube.  I’ve always enjoyed him and his particular brand of humor but I have new-found respect for him since viewing SGN.  In March he posted on his Twitter feed that we’d heard enough sad news and that he wanted people to send him some good news stories.  His feed was flooded with them in hours.  Which gave him the insight to know that people are really looking for positive stories and that there is no shortage of them out there.  So on March 29th he launched SGN.  So far he has produced five episodes.  “Produced” might be a bit of a stretch, as even he admits.  He is recording the show from his home office, with the colorful SGN sign his daughters drew as his only graphic.

John Krasinski on SGN

On each show he not only shows his humanity, but that of all Americans.  He lauds the front line health care workers, as well as other essential workers – transit drivers, utility workers, street sweepers.  He has surprised COVID health care workers in Boston with a trip to Fenway Park, complete with VIP treatment.  He has had Brad Pitt to do the weather and when he threw a prom for all high school seniors who are missing out on that rite of passage, he brought in the Jonas Brothers and Billie Eilish.  His interview with his old cohort Steve Carrell was both funny and touching.  But it’s his “Restoring Faith to All Humanity” segments that are worth their weight in gold because they feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  One episode featured a teenage cancer patient who celebrated her last treatment with a socially-distanced welcome home in her neighborhood that was so touching that I defy you to watch it without tearing up.  Another episode featured a young mailman who has 400 mostly elderly residents on his route, so he gave each of them a flyer offering to run errands or grocery shop for them in his spare time.  Most of them took him up on the offer.  I could go on and on with examples, but really, you need to watch the show for yourself.  I GUARANTEE that you will feel uplifted and optimistic afterwards.  There is also an SGN Facebook page that you can follow that features daily updates of good stories.  Watch SGN and you will be reminded that there are far more good people than bad out there and most of us are willing to pitch in and help without hesitation.  As one of the International Space Station astronauts said on SGN – “An Earth in crisis is still an Earth worth returning to.”

Finally, tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo and I couldn’t resist sharing this meme.  I hope you all find a way to have a Corona without getting Corona!

I’M IN LOVE WITH PERRY MASON

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Raymond Burr, as Perry Mason

Well, here we are…still.  I hope you are all doing well and haven’t killed your spouse yet.  Okay, that might be a bit drastic but I’ve been influenced by crime TV during my “staycation”.  Specifically, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Perry Mason, the TV show from the 50’s and 60’s.  Some things have not changed much in the intervening years – just as with ther current show, Dateline, the spouse is almost always the perpetrator.  Hopefully, you are still experiencing wedded bliss and Keith Morrison won’t be knocking on your front door anytime soon.  But…back to Perry.  I stumbled across the series as I was surfing our 450 channels for something to watch.  As it happens, Family Entertainment TV (don’t worry – I’d never heard of it either) was starting the series from the beginning.  What the heck?  I figured out that to watch the entire series from beginning to end without any breaks takes up 10 days. Heck, I don’t have anything else to do.  Plus, I relished the idea of taking a trip down memory lane recalling those wonderful Saturday nights when I watched the show, intrigued not with Raymond Burr, who played Perry, but with his “confidential secretary”, Della Street.

William Talman, sad sack Hamilton Burger

It has been interesting watching the series as an adult. Obviously, beyond the tail fins on cars and the lack of cell phones, the biggest change has been the role of women. There was a woman judge in a few episodes but no female attorneys. Mostly, women played murderers or victims. But still, it turns out that the show influenced a good share of women.  Sonja Sotomayor, the Supreme Court justice, was one.  In her autobiography she says she was hooked on the law when during one episode Perry asked the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger, if he wasn’t troubled that he had spent so much time prosecuting Perry’s client only to find he was innocent. “My job as a prosecutor is to do justice,” Sotomayor quotes the prosecutor as saying. “And justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and an innocent man is not.”

That prosecutor was Hamilton Burger, who lost all but three cases to Perry.  Makes you wonder how the guy kept his job.  Turns out that William Talman, who played Burger, didn’t keep his job.  He was fired by CBS March 18, 1960, hours after he entered a not-guilty plea to misdemeanor charges related to his presence at a party that was raided by police for marijuana use. Back then they did not consider marijuana an “essential” business.  The shooting schedule was immediately juggled to minimize Talman’s presence on the show.  CBS would not relent, even after the charges were dropped.  In December 1960, after millions of fans protested, he returned to the show where he would remain until the end of the series.  Now that I’ve watched three seasons of the show I think I’ve figured out why he was so inept – every week he used the same line when objecting to Perry’s questioning of his witness: “Your honor, this entire line of questioning is incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial”.  Really, every frigging week he says the same thing.   Wouldn’t you think he – or the writer’s – could come up with something else?  No wonder he lost all those cases.

Della Street and Paul Drake

Paul Drake, Perry’s private detective, was the most fun character on the show.  He did all the dirty work – sneaking into office buildings, tailing a suspect or flying somewhere to gather background “dirt”.  Each week he seemed to get in and out of some perilous situations, often involving a beautiful woman.  Drake was played by William Hopper, whose mother was Hedda Hopper, the famous gossip columnist.  He was a big hunk of a guy and I always suspected that Della was torn between her crush on Perry and him.  Or maybe that was just my youthful imagination.  But back to Della.  She was played by Barbara Hale and I idolized her when I was growing up.  She had wonderful clothes, was smart as a whip, and she always got to stay in the room with Perry when a client spilled their guts.   I thought she had the perfect job.  Of course, now I realize that she was probably grossly underpaid, especially given that she seemed to be at Perry’s beck and call at all hours of the night.  Which makes me wonder how she afforded all those fabulous clothes. Nevertheless, Della was not just a secretary, although she fetched her share of coffee, but someone who Perry listened to and who often gave him the logic or clue needed to solve the case.

I just read that HBO is coming out with a new Perry Mason film in June, starring Matthew Rhys as Perry.  It will focus on the early days of his career, before he became a high-priced defense attorney.  I’ll keep an open mind, but I don’t know how it can possibly be better than the TV show.  No Hamilton Burger, no one in the gallery shouting “I did it!  I killed him.” at the last minute, and most importantly, no Della Street.  Somehow, that just seems wrong.

 

 

 

GROUNDHOG DAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Happy Monday!  It is Monday, isn’t it?  I get so confused these days.  Usually I awaken each morning and before emerging from my bed I think about what day of the week it is and what I have scheduled on the calendar.  It’s sort of a memory test, plus the results dictate whether I’m happy about my day and bounce out of bed or whether I’m having a root canal and decide to languish for a bit longer.  These days, I am really struggling.  With everything on my calendar pretty much wiped out, one day just runs into the next.  It takes me several minutes to figure out the day and – sadly – many days I am wrong.  But I can hardly be blamed.  Just like Bill Murray, every day is Groundhog Day.

As an “at risk” person due to my age, I need to stay home unless I require food, medicine or money.  Frankly, I’d love to know where I could get some money.  I made the mistake this morning of looking at our brokerage account.  I know that the market has been bad but after looking at our balance I almost wish that our broker had absconded to Mexico and was spending our retirement money on pina coladas.  At least then someone would be having fun with it.  But…back to my “staycation” routine.  My first decision of the day is what to wear.  This used to be a fun activity, sorting through my clothes and putting things together. Now I’m down to deciding which color of sweat pants to wear.  I try to save the black ones for formal occasions – like when the Amazon delivery person is coming. After breakfast we take Dash the Wonder Dog on a walk and then I begin my anti-Covid 19 immunity response.  Right now I’m taking Vitamins C and D, a tablespoon of Sambucol Elderberry Syrup and a packet of Emergen-C.  I have NO idea whether any of that is doing any good but I figure it can’t hurt.  And, I haven’t gotten sick so, fingers crossed, hopefully it’s working, even if it’s all in my head.  Once fortified, I begin on my activities for the day.  I am maintaining my 10,000 steps/day routine.  It’s fairly easy this time of year when our weather is beautiful.  If the virus hangs on until summer and our fitness center remains closed I think I’ll be wearing holes in our rugs marching around the house.  Or, by then, the insane asylum.  But that’s a worry for another day.

All that takes me to about 9 o’clock.  That’s a whole lot of time to kill for the rest of the day trapped inside the house.  I saw a segment on the new-found popularity of jigsaw puzzles on CBS Sunday Morning last week and that reminded me that I had some puzzles stashed away.  I broke one out and started to put the edge pieces together only to discover that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  Several of the pieces that I put together did not actually fit correctly but I couldn’t see that so I had something of a jumble on my hands.  It’s still sitting on our dinette table and as this staycation drags on I’m sure I’ll get bored enough to take up the task once again.  Hopefully with better lighting.  My knitting friends and I have discovered (along with the rest of America) the magic of Zoom, the internet meeting app.  So on our regular knitting time on Wednesdays we meet up.  It accomplishes two things – first, it proves that women of a certain age can still master some new technology and second, it puts something fun on the calendar.

Alas, I have to admit that once I’ve cleaned the house for the umpteenth time, watched a few episodes of Grace and Frankie,  and then knit for a couple of hours, I resort to playing Candy Crush on my iPad.  It truly is amazing what a time suck it is.  On the other hand, it keeps me from looking at the latest coronavirus stats and worrying about the health and safety of those I love.  It’s only April 6th.  I know that we all can get through this.  I just hope that it ends before I’ve mastered all 6365 levels of Candy Crush.

PANDEMIC PLANS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Well, it’s been quite the week, heh?  Last week at this time I had all sorts of social engagements and golf games on the calendar.  Today, I think of a trip to the grocery store as a major outing.  Mind you, an outing the warrants rubber gloves and endless sheets of Clorox wipes.  Who ever thought that going to pick up some rutabagas would become a life-threatening excursion?  When they first told us to watch out for the elderly I envisioned the folks that Dash the Wonder Dog used to visit in the retirement care center.  To my horror, I soon discovered that I’m considered elderly and, therefore, in a high-risk group.  Our paranoia about the virus has resulted in some changes around here.  We’ve begun to look at our friends in a whole new light – do we really think the Smiths wash their hands as thoroughly as they should?  Is Sally going to the grocery store and then not wiping down her countertops?  And what about those Johnsons?  They had their kids and grandkids in for spring break last week.  Surely they are swimming in germs over at their house.  Just to make it easy, we are not only socially distancing – we are socially hibernating.

The other change is that we now spend a fair amount of time figuring out what to do.  Normally, each morning when we walk Dash we talk about our plans for the day.  Now, with nothing on our calendar, that conversation is a little stretched for content.  My husband’s main “job” is to play golf.  His secondary job is to watch golf and hockey on TV. But now our golf course has closed down and all sports have been suspended so he’s out of work.  I’m not sure that the new relief package is going to cover his “unemployment”.  But we may need it.  His occasional pastime is watching the stock market but we’ve had to put an end to that as well – his heart just couldn’t take it anymore.  I usually knit a couple of hours a day because I enjoy it and it’s a calming activity.  But now that I have all the time in the world and no place to go, my knitting feels like a time-filler, which is sadly true.  Yesterday I tackled some ironing I’ve been putting off and I cleaned the kitchen for the n-th time and then I ran out of ideas.  Now I’m wishing that I hadn’t spent so much time last year organizing my closets.  Damn that “sparking joy” craze.  My spice rack is alphabetized, the sock drawer is neat as a pin, and all of my pantry items are resting in their designated baskets. I’m looking for other activities to keep me entertained, and – this is important – refrain me from killing my husband. My friends and I joke that among the 30-somethings we will see a baby boom in 9 months, while some of us older folks may well end up in the hoosegow for murdering our spouse.

We’re only 8 days into the 15 day “distancing” suggestion and I’m already antsy.  I’ll get over it.  Really, it’s not much of a sacrifice to sit on the couch with Dash, watch trashy TV and knit.  When I think about what the front line people at hospitals are going through it gives me shivers.  I can’t imagine their stress – not only the anticipation of a coronavirus tsunami, but the risk they take for themselves and their families working so near the disease.  I worry about all the small businesses that may be lost because we all have to stay home – businesses that have provided our communities with so much diversity and character.  But I am optimistic that we will all get through this.  I’m cheered by some unusual bi-partisanship in Washington and how citizens of all stripes are pulling together.  For every stupid college student on the beach in Florida saying they don’t care if they infect others, there are 10 great kids who are volunteering to help the elderly and needy.  It’s uplifting and perhaps just what we needed to remind us that we’re all Americans.

I hope that in two weeks time when I’m writing this blog we will be through the worst of it.  But according to this website https://covidactnow.org/  we may just be at the beginning.  So just in case, does anyone have the name of a good bail bondsman?

MARCH MADNESS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

If you live in a sunbelt state you would know what month this is without looking at a calendar.  The tip off is increased traffic, a shortage of dinner reservation slots and thousands of white legs in Bermuda shorts.  All that adds up to one thing, it’s March – the month of Spring training for baseball.  Both Florida and Arizona get swamped with visitors this month and then – like magic – they dissapear on April 1.  Last year more than 1,737,975 people attended Spring training games in Arizona’s Cactus League!  Oh sure, some die-hard fans may have attended 20 games or more, but still, that’s a LOT of people coming to the desert in a short period of time.  According to the official Cactus League stats (and isn’t baseball just full of those?), the biggest number of fans visit from Chicago to see their beloved Cubbies.  More than 16,000 people showed up for just ONE game last year.  And who can blame them when the average temperature here is 75 and back home…well, they’re putting on six layers of clothes just to walk the dog.

Baseball is not the only event that March brings.  Seemingly every school in the United States is on Spring Break over the next four weeks.  Normally Arizona is not as inundated as Florida, given that we don’t have sandy beaches or a long history of hosting drunk college students.  But this year it seems there are more kids visiting grandparents in our community.  Maybe with the corona virus people have cancelled trips to Disneyworld or Atlantis...who knows?  Grandma and Grandpa’s house sounds like a good alternative – it’s free and less germ-ridden than your average hotel room.  I expect that for the next month our community pool is going to need extra chlorine for those youngsters who confuse the pool with the restroom.  Our gym will also be packed – mostly with college-age kids who run on the treadmill at speeds that I could only dream about.  God, they make me feel old.  They will also be talking on their phone and – most disturbingly – not wipe off the equipment after they use it.  When they leave at the end of the month we will have been exposed to every virus currently circulating in our institutions of higher learning.  Personally, I’m skipping the gym this month – I can’t find a hazmat suit to fit me.

Finally, for some reason the golf clubs around here have conspired to schedule all the big invitational tournaments this month.  Okay, granted, I don’t have to play in our club’s event, but it’s really fun and at least it’s an outside activity.  Plus it’s always fun to bet on the same people who win every year.  In the golf world these people are known as “sandbaggers”, meaning they artifically inflate their handicap and and then shocked – SHOCKED! – when they shoot an unbelievely low score in the tournament.  So betting on them to win is the only way to feel good about these people – they are so reliable that every year there is money to be made on their shenanigans.  I’m just hoping that my score isn’t so bad that I’ll wish I had been quarantined with the corona virus instead.

The good news is that this March will bring two great events – this week we will be hosting brother Bob and his wife Linda and next week is St Patrick’s Day.  It’s fortuitous that these two events will happen so close together because not only are we excited to spend some time with Bob and Linda, but just to add to the anticipation, my brother is the only member of my family who will share a Guinness with me in salute to the old country. That almost makes up for all those white legs we’ll be spotting this month.  On my visit to Ireland I was told that Guinness is considered medicinal, packed with vitamins and minerals.  That’s probably a lot of blarney.  Still, maybe the CDC should put it on their “recommended” list, right up there with hand sanitizer.  After all, it’s probably just as effective and it’s a heck of a lot easier to find.

SPORTS BALM

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This past weekend we observed the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice”, when the US Olympic hockey team beat the Soviet Union in a shocking upset.  I’ve read a few articles about that game and how uplifting it was to our national psyche.  Of course I remembered the game – it was actually the first hockey game I ever watched – but I had forgotten how dismal our morale was at the time.  The preceding years had brought us the Vietnam War, Watergate, raging inflation and blocks-long lines to get gasoline.  A regular smorgasbord of misery.  President Carter, six months prior, had given a speech wherein he spoke of our collective “crisis of confidence”.  But then our hockey team, overwhelming underdogs, did the impossible and suddenly we all felt better.  We regained a bit of our swagger and once again, Americans felt anything was possible.

Turns out that identifying with a sports team, Olympic or otherwise, can have great psychological benefits.   Adam Earnhardt, co-author of “Sports Fans, Identity and Socialization: Exploring the Fandemonium.” points out that walking in a mall wearing a team cap or shirt instantly connects you to others fans of the team.  In that sense, your favorite team can serve the same purpose as church and family, fostering a sense of belonging.  I can attest to this.  My husband is a huge USC football fan and has struck up conversations with complete strangers who are wearing a Trojan logo.  One time he stumbled on the father of a recent draft recruit in the grocery store and the conversation went on for an hour.  No amount of my hinting about melting ice cream could deter the two of them from re-living every game from the past season.  Scholars who study “fandom” have also found there is no correlation between being a fan and a winning record.  Oh sure, there are bandwagon fans who jump on when times are good but a true fan is consistent through thick and thin.  One need look no further than the Chicago Cubs for an excellent example of this phenomenon. They had longest time between World Series wins – 108 years 19 days.  Their 2016 championship was one for the ages.  Lots of people were suddenly sporting Cubs hats, shirts and beer cozies.  But the true fans had supported the team all of their lives.  We know people who cried tears of joy and lamented that a long-lost relative never lived to see the Cubs win the Series.  Those life-long fans shared a joy and sense of redemption that could only be imagined by the rest of us.

The other aspect of “fandom” is the idolization of a particular athlete vs a team.  There may not be a better example of this than the LA Lakers.  The Lakers are synonymous with the Southland, but when you think about the team one most often congers up one of the all-time great players: Magic, Kareem, Kobe and Shaq.  Our collective reaction to the tragic death of Kobe illustrates the flip-side of being in the “sports community”.  Today, as the memorial service takes place for Kobe and his daughter Gianna, we will mourn their loss.  In grieving, we will, once again, have a shared moment.

Mostly, I think sports and athletes can be an uplifting balm for whatever ails us.  From football to curling, celebrating a win or bemoaning a loss can bring us together with complete strangers.  These days, I’m for anything that can accomplish that.

 

THE CORONA VIRUS BLUES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

News about the corona virus gets scarier by the day.  More cases, more deaths and more quarantined people.  The experts are saying that warmer weather in the Spring should contain the virus but, Puxatony Phil aside, we’re still several weeks away from cherry blossoms and daffodils.  I know people here in Scottsdale that didn’t go to the Phoenix Open for fear of contracting the disease given the massive crowds.  Personally, I think there is enough alcohol consumed at the event that germs don’t stand a chance of surviving.  Still…you never know where it might appear.

 

As a bona fide germaphobe I have to admit that I’m a bit extra cautious these days – there is an epidemic of the regular flu going around that has made people sick for weeks.  I keep a container of Purell in the door pocket of my car so that I can wipe it on my hands whenever I’ve touched anything in public.  I grab an antiseptic wipe when I enter the grocery store, not only to wipe down the cart handle, but also to cover my finger with it when I punch in my phone number at the check-out counter.  I’d rather have my kidneys explode than touch a door handle in a public restroom.  I don’t even use the pen they provide in a restaurant or doctor’s office to sign anything – I have my own pen at the ready, sterilized and untouched by the masses.  More and more I frequent places where I can use my Apple Pay so I don’t have to touch anything.  Okay, I know that I can be a bit over the top.  At Walgreen’s the other day a woman in front of me was watery-eyed and coughing into her hand, and then used  the keypad to punch in her number as she paid her bill.  As I approached the counter the clerk asked me brightly if I would like to put my number in.  That garnered her my five minute rant questioning how a drug store that is full of sick people with the latest flu, asks people to put their hands on something that those same sick people have touched.  She told me that they do wipe down the keypads several times a day.  I rolled my eyes.  Clearly the powers that be at Walgreen’s need to teach their employees about how germs get spread.  Maybe I could consult.

In any event, I think most people agree that avoiding the flu, and particularly the corona virus, requires a good immune system.  Eating berries of any sort is highly recommended and in particular the elderberry.  At first I thought that might be a berry for old people but, turns out, it’s been the basis of moonshine and cough syrup for generations.  It was even featured in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace where the aunts used it in their deadly pursuits.  Aunt Martha gave the recipe: “For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.”  Hmmmm…that might be going a bit too far.  A friend recently went to Mexico and her doctor told her to chug Elderberry Syrup before, during, and after her trip.  A few of her travel companions had the flu but my friend sailed through in fine fashion.  I found Sambucol Elderberry Syrup at Costco.  It claims to improve the immune system as well as assist heart health and allergies.  I just started taking it last week but so far I don’t have the flu, haven’t had a heart attack and my allergies actually are better.

I’ll keep you posted.  After all this if I come down with the flu I guess the joke’s on me.  Plus, it could screw up my consulting job at Walgreen’s.

ME IN A CAR GETTING DOUGHNUTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

A few weeks ago I read an article on the CNBC website about Kakeibo.  In case you think that’s a form of sushi, I’ll explain.  Kakeibo roughly translates to “household financial ledger.” Invented in 1904 by a woman named Hani Motoko (notable for being Japan’s first female journalist), kakeibo is a simple, no-frills approach to managing your finances.  In essence, every purchase is made with thoughtfulness.  If you practice it you will ask yourself several questions before buying anything – can I live without it?, can I afford it?, will I really use it?, etc.  That seems like a lot of thought process to go through when buying toilet paper but it’s probably not a bad concept on anything more important…like that new pair of Manolo Blahniks.  I’ve been practicing Ms. Motoko’s approach most of my life.  As a struggling college student and then when I had my first job and apartment, eating a solid diet of bologna sandwiches prepares one for frugality.  Which, in part, is why I seldom buy a new car.

My current car, and Acura MDX, has been showing it’s age.  Not the body or interior – that still looked pretty good.  But the car was 9 years old which, from an electronics standpoint made it something out of the Pleistocene era.  Every six months I would get an offer from Acura asking me if I wanted to update the nav system and I always declined.  After all, I always carry my cell phone so I didn’t see the need.  But my husband convinced me that I really needed a new car if we are going to go on any long trips this summer.  God forbid, we would dirty up his BMW taking it anywhere.  I decided to go back to the Lexus RX SUV, a car I’ve owned twice before.  And here was a contributing factor:  Lexus always has a great lounge with baked goods and coffee.

Our first venture into a dealer was our local one and the car salesman had all the traits of a Randy Quaid character – just the slightest bit sleazy.  His attitude was “we sell a million of these so we don’t care if you buy one.”  So we didn’t.  Then we were lucky enough to have our friend Alfy take my husband to Superstition Springs Lexus to meet with Mark Dent.  I instructed them to find me a silver car (because that’s really the most important thing about a car, right?) and sure enough they came home with a deal.  I would have loved it if they’d just driven it home but nothing is ever that simple.  Turns out I needed to be there to sign all the paperwork so, braced for the worst, over the weekend we made the 45 minute trip to pick up my new car.

Right off I knew I’d like this place because they had a comfy lounge and…wait for it…doughnuts!  Ahhhhhh, that’s when I knew I was back at a Lexus dealer.  Secondly, and probably more important, turns out that Mark Dent is one of the most likable car salesmen I’ve ever met.  He’s actually just a really nice guy, regardless of profession.  He even put the big red bow on my car, which was a fun touch.

A “swift” two and a half hours later we drove off the lot with our new purchase.  We ran into trouble immediately upon entering the freeway because my husband said the steering wheel was shaking.  He was certain that the tires were out of balance.  Turns out, it’s the lane guidance system that alerts you when you’re veering out of your lane.  OMG – I cannot thank Lexus enough for this.  I now can focus on reading or knitting on long car trips, rather than watching for any “drifting” on the part of my driver.

When we got home I made sure that the “captains” chairs configuration in the second row would be suitable for our captain – Dash the Wonder Dog.  After all, any road trip must include comfortable seating for his majesty. As you can see from the photo, he snuggled right in to his new ride.  Last I saw him he was trying to learn the voice control system so he could request pee breaks and dog treats from the back seat.

All in all, it was a great experience and I love the car.  But truth be told, they had me at the doughnuts.