Or why cats should rule the world

Friday in Trumpland

So today was Field Trip Friday.

KK and I went to a town west of Mouskin to check out the museum and a hamburger (the latter is his job). The museum had a mimeograph machine, first one I’d seen in 40 years. Trying to explain to KK why we sniffed our papers was useless. But another elderly woman there said she remembered it, too.

Then we went to the burger place. KK took one look at this guy’s shirt and said, “He must be dumb to have voted for Trump.” (Notice his shirt and the bumper sticker on the stove hood)

I said, “People who voted for him aren’t necessarily stupid. Give folks the benefit of the doubt.”

So the guy (TG) came over to the table and said, “Will it be three of you today?”

KK and I looked at one another. I said, “No, just us two.”

Trump Guy said, “Isn’t that lady with you?”

We both looked and didn’t see a lady who was without a seat.

“No, just us,” I said. He gave us menus.

He came back after a few minutes and said, “What can I get you to drink?”

“Water,” KK said, and I said,

“Me, too.”

“So three waters?” TG asked.

KK looked at me and rolled his eyes.

“Nope,” I answered, “Just two.”

“Oh, sorry,” TG said.

A few minutes later he returned with two waters.

“So,” TG asked, “Are you ready to order or are you still waiting for someone?”

This time I rolled my eyes at KK. “Nope, we’re ready.”

We ordered a burger and a sandwich, home fries and tater tots respectively. TG walked back to the kitchen area. KK looked at me and said, “See? I told you.”

The waitress walked by us. She was a pretty young lady with a Smith and Wesson tee shirt on. I was starting to agree with KK. I went to the restroom.

It was a single restroom and probably half the size of the entire restaurant. There was the usual plumbing plus a book shelf, a bureau, a chair and a chifforobe. (I may have heard a mocking bird)

On top there was a statue of a portly man holding a toilet paper roll in one hand and his nose with the other. This room was so big I had to make two laps around the inside just to find the paper towels. And it was a trek to get back to the restaurant.

The portions were generous. KK and I ate as much as we could handle. Then we went to the register to pay. Tables in this restaurant were packed tightly together and there were two women standing in the 36″ between the table and the register. They were chatting up a storm, gesturing grandly and completely oblivious to our presence. We shuffled around so we could get to the cash register and one lady stepped back to laugh.

I had to back up quickly and knocked a folding sign sitting on a table. KK was quick. He caught it and we got it back where it was supposed to be with the help of TG. KK says he heard several people in the restaurant rumble, “Good catch!”

So we were ready to pay TG. He went over our meals: “You had a burger, a turkey sandwich and what was the other?”

“That was it, just a burger and sandwich. Just two.”

“Oh!” TG said embarrassedly, “I forgot.”I left him a three dollar tip and change. On the way out the S&W girl was also standing between tables and we bumped into her, too.

“Let’s get out of here quick,” KK hissed at me.

“I’m with you. Let’s move it.”

We got back to the car. KK buckled his seatbelt and leaned over the seat. He said, “See? I told you!”

“I know, I know,” I moaned, “I have to buy you a blizzard.”

“That’s right!”

I had to concede that although I don’t like to think badly of people who voted for our current president, this was an exception. And it leads to three pertinent questions;

1. Is there a tendency for Trump supporters to be a bit, uh, simpler?

2. Is there maybe some inbreeding going on in the area?

3. Were we eating lunch with a ghost?

You go and tell me what you think.

Murphy’s Law

This morning started out like any other. We got to work, started up our computers and… nothing.

While we tried to get online, the manager told us the news was coming to do interviews.


Nobody likes to be on the news but Mom and her friend the Perky Lady were right in the line of fire when they put up the cameras. Others moved, but of course we had people who needed help come in and sit with us. We still couldn’t get on the computer so there wasn’t a lot we could do except listen, take notes and give them information.

Of course the people who came in were a little freaked out. Our first customer was upset. In the middle of the night he woke to find his home flooded. He got sick afterwards and went to the hospital for ten days. He said he had to pull out the carpet and flooring, and cut down trees that were on his house, without any help. He also said all the furniture he had left was a table and a rocking chair.  We had to tell him to come back later after the computers were working again.

Murphy’s law is in full force here in the Mitten State. When we first got here, we stayed at the Hotel California for one night. Two weeks later Mom contacted them to get a copy of her receipt and they had charged her EVERY SINGLE DAY since our one day stay. Mom, of course, lost it. It took almost two weeks to get it fixed. At one time she was talking to Corporate and the woman she was talking to said she had just talked to Accounting, who was taking care of it.

Mom said, “So can I get a name and a number for accounting?”

The woman she was talking to said, “Oh, there’s no number to Accounting.”

Mom said, “You said you just talked to Accounting! What did you do, use a psychic?”

They hung up on her.

Meanwhile, some people came from PIO (which I think is short for Putting Out Information) and sat down and talked with the news lady. The lights were very bright and I had to squint. Mom and Perky sat at their computers and started tapping on their keys. Mom was just typing gibberish. Perky was typing

“Every Good Boy Does Fine…


Every good little boy does fine.

Every bad boy gets in trouble,

and those boys have to go home and their parents yell at them and they get grounded and then they sneak out the window and go hang out with their friends and knock over a liquor store and steal a car and get chased by the police and steal cigarettes from their parents and sit around behind the school drinking and smoking until Marty stops by with his bag of weed and they all get high and then he sneaks back into his house and his dad is waiting and he gets yelled at and in trouble again and get grounded for life and eventually commits a felony and goes to prison and gets ugly tattoos and really creepy friends and finally gets out and goes into rehab and starts going to church and finally becomes a good boy and

Every Good Boy Does Fine.”

(Perky’s like Mom. She loves run together sentences)

Finally, they left.

This weekend we get two days off. Mom intends to sleep during most of it, which is boring (and noisy). The Emily asked her to take a lot of pictures, so at some point we’ll have to go out and find some things that are picture worthy. Her big plans are:

  1. Sleep
  2. Drop off laundry
  3. Sleep
  4. Check and see if the purse The Emily likes is on sale
  5. Sleep
  6. Go replenish groceries for next week
  7. Sleep
  8. Pick up laundry
  9. Sleep
  11. Sleep

And that’s just Sunday.  Can’t wait to see what’s planned for Labor Day.

I hope it involves chicken.





A little while ago we had a day for which heavy rain was predicted.  Mom got up early that morning because we had to drive the 30 miles to our recovery center for work. One of her favorite sayings is, “Better an hour early than a minute late”.  (some other are: “There’s no ‘I’ in team unless you spell it wrong”, “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do” and “Cucumbers can’t mow lawns”)

So it was still dark and by the time we got to the exit the rain was so hard we couldn’t see the lines on the road.  Mom pulled off and turned left on the two lane road to Gladwin. Because of the dark, the rain and the oncoming headlights, Mom might as well have been wearing a blindfold.  I finally spotted a gas station and guided her in to it.  We sat there for a while and watched the rain lessen and the sky start to brighten.  After about twenty minutes we got back on the road.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as we pulled back onto the road it started coming down in cats and dogs.  (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but I like it).  Fortunately it was light enough for Mom to see despite the downpour and we got to work only a half hour early.  The rest of the day was rainy.

After work we started driving back in a much lighter rain than we had arrived in.  We got onto the highway with the sun behind us.  It didn’t take long until we saw a rainbow in the sky.  We looked again and saw it was a double rainbow.   The cars in front of us were kicking up a fine mist and in the mist were more rainbows.  Every single  car, truck and motorcycle had a spray of color coming out of the exhaust pipe.  It looked like a herd of farting unicorns.

So that happened.

Last night we went to a new hotel.  After checking in, we walked over to the restaurant next door.  Inside is very hip with different kinds of bread and bagels and pastries.  We didn’t know what to order, so Mom just pointed at a photo on the wall and said, “I’ll just have that, and a drink”

The girl behind the counter took our money and gave Mom a glass.  She said they’d call us when our food was ready.  So we went to the drink counter.

There was a soda machine (yes, I said soda) that had Pepsi, which makes Mom’s stomach hurt.  Then there was a group of dispensers with exotic drinks.  They had unsweetened black tea, hibiscus-prickly pear fresca, lemongrass-hibiscus tea, sassafras-blood orange lemonade and white clover-dandelion lemonade.  It sounded like they just mowed the highway median and emptied the clippings into dispensers full of luke-warm water.  And from the look on Mom’s face, that’s about what it tasted like.  She scowled and said, “Nasty.”

She went back and tried another drink and her face looked like she was sucking on a poisoned lemon.  “Yick”, she said.

Finally she just got some water.

When they called her name for the food it was a berry salad with a little bit of green stuff and unidentified bird parts and an unidentified bird part sandwich.  She enjoyed the salad but ended up throwing away most of the sandwich.  It was bird and even I didn’t like it.  It tasted like a dove who’d fallen into a grease dumpster behind Taco Bell.

So we walked back to our new hotel.  There was a guy with round, mirrored sunglasses standing by the door, talking.  There was no one around him.  He looked at Mom (well, it was actually  hard to tell because of the glasses) and started yelling at her.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking!” he yelled.

We just tried to circle around him.

“What are you doing here?” he hooted.

We ducked our heads down.

“Why did you want to treat the cops like that?” he shouted angrily.

As we slipped through the door Mom said, “It wasn’t me!”

So they’re both crazy.

We like our new room.  It’s newer and has a sliding barn door that covers the closet, or the bathroom but not both at the same time.  Since Mom spent a lot of time in her grandmother’s barn as a child, she feels right at home.  There’s also a gigantic, soccer-field sized bed.  I bet you could fit a gross of cats on it.  If Mom would just go to The Walmarts and get me a good catnip mouse, I could keep her up all night.

We’re shopping for food this evening.  I’ll see if I can slip one in the basket.


The Loss of the Sun

This morning when we got up, Mom put on the television.  It was MSNBC and they had that guy Joe there, the one who does all the talking (instead of the people he’s supposed to be interviewing) and says rude things and interrupts the pretty blonde lady he sits next to.  Honestly, I don’t know how he stays on the air. One of these days that lady, Mika, should just whack him upside the head with that stupid coffee cup of his.  Maybe he’d learn some R E S P E C T.

He had three other people there.  One was a fellow reporter, one was an ex congressman and the other was a different pretty blonde lady from BBC in England.  Joe said the next eclipse of the sun wouldn’t be “for fifty years, or something”.  (now that’s some up to the minute, accurate reporting)  The lady from the BBC said, “I think it’s five years, actually.”  And, of course, at some point someone else said it would be seven years before the next eclipse.

The next total eclipse of the sun will be on April 8, 2024.  Do I know that because I’m a NASA scientist? Do I know because I’m an astrologer?  Or an astrophysicist?


I Googled it.

I guess the NBC morning crew hasn’t heard of Google yet.  Maybe someone should tell them.

So we got in the car and drove to work.  Now if you take a right a block from our hotel, it’s a straight line on a single street for about three miles to the left turn for our recovery center.  We’ve done it six or eight times.  This morning?  Mom took a wrong turn.

We found the spot, a nice old school, probably built for little kids back in the 1940s or so.  No air conditioning, tall windows for letting out hot air and ceilings that used to be 12 or more feet high.  At some point, probably in the 1970s, folks put in a dropped ceiling with those ugly cat scratch squares and florescent lighting.  As I understand it, lowering the ceiling lowers the heating costs in the winter.  And since Michigan has at least as much winter as summer (possibly more) I guess it made sense.  But Mom and I both are itching to see what’s above those ugly tiles.

Once when we were in a high school in Pennsylvania I prowled around until I found the auditorium.  Climbing into the balcony and up the little  stair in the back I discovered a huge stained glass window, forty feet across, that had been covered up from the bottom and from the top. It was originally built to allow sunlight to brighten the auditorium.  It was quite decorative and colorful (probably from the 1850s or so) and a crying shame they had to cover it up.

Anyways, the place we are now is the library and someone put in a lot of time making murals and a huge mosaic along the tops of the walls. It’s covered with fish, sea horses, parrots, crustaceans, porpoises, rabbits, raccoons, bears and a fire truck being driven by black and white dogs (like that would ever happen).  There is one cat, looking frightened, sitting on the limb of a tree.  Every cat knows that if they can get into a tree, they can get out of a tree.  But no, this scaredy cat is gripping the limb with her claws, wide-eyed and petrified.

Personally, I think it’s animal profiling.

Mom has gotten several emails about the eclipse from her bosses.  They all say not to look directly into the sun. (duh)  One said, “Sunglasses aren’t enough!”  I say, if they’re not enough to look at an eclipse, they shouldn’t be called SUN glasses.  Mom sent them a link to “How to make  a pinhole camera to watch the eclipse”.  It’s the safest way to watch it live because when you’re using it, you’re actually looking AWAY from the sun.  Mom learned how to make one back before the 1963 eclipse from, I think, Mr. Greenjeans.

So I’m getting ready to step out and watch the moon eat the sun.  Cats have long, skinny pupils so we can squint very efficiently.  With any luck, I’ll get to see the eclipse AND not have to buy a little white cane.

See you soon (I hope)


Michigan, the Mitten State


I’m here in Midland, Michigan with a flood disaster.  It took us over 12 hours and 3 airplanes to get here.  Untied airlines actually did a good job this time, didn’t lose the luggage, no missed connections and even Mom’s blood pressure remained fairly normal.
When people talk about Michigan, they invariably hold up their hand and point to the city they are talking about.  Michigan is shaped like a big mitten (go ahead, take a look.  I’ll wait).  Where we are is in the flap of skin between the thumb and forefinger.  We’re quite near Saginaw, if that helps.  It’s a beautiful place with lots of trees and lakes and ponds and rivers and streams.  It’s pretty hot and humid, too, so Mom’s hair looks like a crazy person worked on it. (Technically, that’s true because she cut her own bangs)
The floods and severe storms, which happened in mid-June, are limited to four counties: Bay, Gladwin, Isabella, Midland.  We are going to be in a traveling road show, setting up recovery centers for the survivors in different places.  We’ll be in one town for a couple days, then another, then another.  I’m sure they will all be interesting places.
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written, so I’ll give you a few highlights from the past year:
First: There is only one cell tower in the entire state of West Virginia.  (That’s probably not entirely true, but cell reception deep in the mountains was very bad.)
We were in White Sulphur Springs (as opposed to Blue Sulphur Springs and Green Sulphur Springs) for severe flooding.  When we drove into town we saw the very first place to reopen after the flood – GUNS AND AMMO.  They were running a sale for people affected by the disaster.  (20% off)  
The damage there was bad, parts of the main road were washed out and homes right in town and on the surrounding hillsides had been heavily flooded.  The people were mostly poor to begin with and the town was primarily employed by a local resort.  That resort closed for almost two weeks.  Those folks were very worried that they would not be able to pay their bills.  
The second place to open was a Carl’s Jr.  
We went to their driveup to have lunch one time and saw signs that said they were having a sale on chili cheese dogs with onions.  But since there was no option for a plain hot dog, Mom asked if she could have a hot dog and bun only.  Pretty clear, hot dog and bun only, no chili, no cheese, no onions.  After a very long wait (remember, this was the first restaurant to reopen) we got to the window and handed us a bag.
Because in the past we have received incorrect orders, we normally check before we drive away.  But there was a long line behind us, Mom pulled into the parking lot.  She opened the bag and pulled out the hot dog box.  Upon opening we found: chili, cheese and onions.  That’s it.  No hot dog, no bun, just a gloppy lump of chili, cheese and onions.
Mom just shook her head.  “Why would anyone do that?” she asked.  I would have shrugged, but cats can’t.
We went into the restaurant and talked to someone at the register.
“Hi,” Mom said. (Amazingly calm and polite) “I ordered a hot dog and a bun with no chili, cheese or onions.”  She opened the box.  “This is what I got.”
The woman at the counter glanced at it and called back “we need a hotdog and bun.”  After that it was as if we were in a jungle full of monkeys calling out to one another.
The cook shouted, “I made a hot dog and bun.”
Someone in the back answered, “I didn’t get a hot dog and bun.”
The guy at the window said back, “I got a hot dog and bun.”
Then the lady at the counter told the cook, “Get me a hot dog and bun!”
The cook said, “Making a hot dog and bun.”
The guy at the drive up said, “I don’t need a hot dog and bun!”
Then the cook said, “Do you want that with chili?”
Yeah, it really happened.
There was a lady there who was very poor and elderly.  She kept coming around asking if she could volunteer to help.  During the flood, she had been safe at a shelter, but her neighbor asked her for a ride home.  His home was flooding.  He wanted to check on his dog.
The lady told him it was flooding and she didn’t want to take her truck out into the flood. But when the guy threatened to walk home, she decided to give him a ride after all. “I couldn’t let him walk!” she told us.
She said they got stuck in the flood and were very afraid that the truck would be swept away.  After that, the truck didn’t start.
She needed that truck because she did work for people and cleaned a couple of churches in town.  She also said she had to cut firewood for her ex-husband who “Lets me take some home for the winter.”  (a real peach, that guy)
Without the truck she would have no heat.
Unfortunately, she also had a little old car that she used to do errands without burning up fuel in her truck.  And because that was not damaged, we couldn’t help her get her truck fixed. She finally broke down crying. Mom sat with her and sent her to Red Cross for help.
We sat next to a young man at work who did an amazing impression of Golem from Lord of the Rings.  He would say things like “We needs our lunches in the bagses,” and “The scissorses! The scissorses! We wants to use the scissorses!”  He and Mom had a lot of fun doing their LOTR talking.  Me, I just slept on the mini-fridge.
Since then we’ve been at home. Mom was working on her Indivisible group.  Last weekend we were at the Amarillo version of ComicCon – AMACON.  Mom and her friend Renea were selling jewelry and Uncle Stork sent some hand carved pipes (beautiful) and a hand made gourd guitar (also beautiful).  Everyone sold a little bit.  The Emily went around the place with KK.  She had a giant cat head, white fuzzy monster slippers and a fuzzy tail.  She’s damn scary, that one.  KK wore a costume that he and his mom made overnight with duct tape and foam.  It looked really good, too.  The Emily is the Queen of Duct Tape.
So, I’ve been doing this while Mom’s been running around getting computers and phones and taking people to the rental car place.  Can’t wait to get out in the counties and start helping people.  I’ll talk to you then.

Runaway Trucks

Whew.  I’m bushed.

Mom was working on getting enough paintings for her art show when she got – The Call.  Yup, it was her work asking her if she could rush in West Virginia because of all the flooding.  She almost said no, but at the last second she decided she needed the money so Dad could get the siding fixed.  Personally, I think it’s a waste of money.  I never see the siding.  And if it doesn’t affect me directly, it’s frivolous.

But I digress.

The town Mom’s working in is the one we saw on the news back in Mouskin.  They had a thousand year flood and the news showed some of their houses floating down the river on fire!  Mom’s already talked to one of those homeowners.  There were some deaths in the community as well.  That always makes it harder, because in small communities like this everyone knows everyone.  One of the workers helped an applicant who lost her husband, mother and son at the same time.  She was remarkedly composed.  We think she was in shock.

We were supposed to fly into Charleston, WV, but the booking agency couldn’t find a plane that wasn’t full.  (I take that back.  For the Mouskin to Dallas flight the agent said, “I’ve got one seat left on this airline.  Do you want that?”  Mom said no.  I don’t even know why the agent offered it to us as it would take less than halfway to where we needed to go.  And besides, we’ve all seen Final Destination, right?

So they booked her on a flight to Columbus, Ohio (SOUTHWEST!  Mom’s mantra is If Southwest doesn’t go there, neither do I.)  We had a nice couple of flights, then after getting in after midnight, stayed at a hotel near the airport.  In the morning we drove for three hours to get to Charleston.

Driving in West Virginia is different.  On the interstate going south, Mom was doing the speed limit (70) and people kept coming up behind us, so close you could read the paperwork on their dashboards.  Then they’d yell for her to get out of the way (I can read lips) and speed past like we were standing still.  And when we passed a car which was going less than 70 mph, the cars behind us would speed up and tailgate us until we were out of the way.  Some of them turned on their headlights once they were close to us, and honked at us.  With a semi on one side and a cliff on the other, Mom just threw up her hands and said, “Where do you want me to go?”  She said it reminded her of Houston, except for the scenery.

The next night we stayed at a hotel in Ripley, WV.  It was about 40 miles from headquarters, so another fairly long and dangerous drive.  She got her equipment and after being sent to the National Guard facility to twiddle our paws, we went to the hotel.

In the morning Mom tried to take a shower. It was cold. She called the front desk and said, “Yeah, I’ve had the water running for quite a while and I’m not getting any hot water.”

The desk clerk said, “What room are you in?”

Mom answered, “145”.

“Oh,” the clerk replied, “You’re a fur piece from the boiler.  You have to let the hot water run for a while.”

So we waited for a quarter hour with the allegedly “hot” water running, but in the end Mom took a very quick, very cold shower.  I sat on the back of the potty and laughed.

Later that day we drove to yet another motel.  Victoria, our British GPS, sent us down the Old Coal Road. (She’s much nicer than the old GPS, Stella.  Victoria never says, “Turn right now.  Turn RIGHT NOW!  You missed it, you moron!”)  The Old Coal Road follows a railroad that twisted and swerved through the mountainous coal mines, producers of low-smoke coal.  It was built in the 1890s to fuel America’s Industrial Revolution. It’s obvious that this road was built for horse drawn wagons with upper limits of 25 mph.

Every mile or so we saw yellow road signs bearing twitching, black snakes with triangles for heads.  Some of them had five or six curlicues.  And those snakes did not lie.  It took us three hours to drive a 70 mile route.  But the scenery was beautiful and thankfully, nobody tailgated us.

When we finally got back on the interstate, we were in an area with very steep hills.  Signs along that road had pictures of black trucks barreling down acute angles.  Some of those stretches were 8% of grade.  It was tough for Mom to keep to the speed limit when going downhill and all she was carrying was our stuff.  Imagine a truck full of onions speeding willy-nilly down those hills, brakes blowing smoke and flying off the highway, crashing over a cliff, tons of onions broken and soppy on the ground.

That would be a spill to cry over.

That may be why they also have “Runaway Truck Ramp” signs .  (Not, as I originally thought, was a ramp for trucks unhappy at home).  As we went by those ramps, I got a look at what would happen to trucks using it.  The first one had about 400 yards of road going downward, a 12-foot pile of sand and a cliff after that.  The second one went upwards, but it curved sharply around the mountain.  I can’t imagine that a speeding, brakeless truck would be able to make that curve without flying off sideways.  The third one (yes, it was that steep!) went upwards and had a slight curve.  It ended with a tree in the middle of the road.  None of those alternatives seem quite adequate.

It’s put me off long-haul trucking for a while.

We checked into our third hotel.  Remember, that morning Mom took a cold shower.  When we walked into the room, there was a huge pool by the bed.  Mom called it a “Jacuzzi”.  She filled it with hot water and turned on the bubble machine.  I thought she was nuts going into deep, boiling water like that, but she just put her toes against the jets and said, “Ahhhh”.

In the morning we went to work.  There are a whole lot of her coworkers there, more than I’ve ever seen in one place.  They also have four (count ‘em,four!) SBA folks.  Mom knew one person there, Jeri.  They worked together in Quincy, Illinois years ago.

So we’re making new friends.


America as a Business

It’s election year and once again we are hearing candidates talk about America.  It seems every few cycles there’s some millionaire or billionaire who inherited his wealth from his daddy who wants to be president.  These people want to run America like a business.  But America is not a business, it’s a country.  And we cannot submit our citizens to bottom-line economics.

But let’s just consider if the United States were a business.  The United States has high name recognition.  It also has a very bad reputation.   We are hated and ridiculed around half the globe.  Even our allies are laughing nervously.  So as a business, what do we have to offer?

A business provides products and services to its customers.  Customers pay for these commodities.  And in order to be a successful business, it’s important to offer what something the customer wants.  So just what is the business of America?  What is it’s product?

The product of America is Americans.

And as a business (as an ethical business) it’s important to put out a good, reliable product.  And Americans, as a whole, seem to be as ethical as most businesses.  Corporations spend money on research and development in order to put a newer, better version of it’s products.


But are we really putting out a quality product that others want?  Are Americans considered quality resources in the world-wide market?  As a business we should make sure our products are top of the line.

The raw materials for Americans, children, are being left behind by the education system. Yet funding for education is spotty.  Schools are struggling to keep quality teachers, to obtain necessary materials and meet educational goals set by political entities. By the time high school graduation comes along, the average senior is reading at the seventh grade level.  Does that make them ready for university?  No, it does not.  So product quality suffers.

One of the primary identified causes of this condition is poverty.  There is a direct link between family income levels and children’s progress in school.  So when the government cuts funding to those at the poverty level: subsistence, housing, nutrition and health, what kind of raw materials are we getting?  The majority of people in this country who are receiving government benefits are children.  So when leaders cut assistance in order to motivate recipients to “get a job”, they are talking about putting minors to work.

The number of children receiving benefits is twenty percent.  One in five children in this country are receiving some form of pubic assistance. These children are under nourished, under educated and without access to medical care.   If a business were purchasing materials that were substandard twenty percent of the time, it would fail.

The care and nurturing of future workers begins before birth.  The United States has the highest infant mortality rate of all developed nations.  Much of this is due to lack of pre-natal care, education and support.  Children can’t develop properly unless their mothers are knowledgable, healthy and well-fed.  Safeguarding human life in the pre-natal stages is such a high priority for so many, but when it comes time to support that same child as she becomes a high-quality worker, these same people want cuts in subsistence-level programs.  Thus her usefulness of the resource is limited.

So as a business, where does the United States need to look for high-quality human resources?  Countries with the best education systems.  And those countries are:  South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, Ireland, Poland.  They all have more successful education systems than the United States.  In many of these countries, teachers, who the United States holds in blatant contempt (as characterized by the low-pay, union breaking and general lack of respect), are held in the same esteem as doctors and lawyers.

But not in the United States.

As espoused in the popular media, the idea of governing on the business model seems based on lowering taxes and cutting benefits.  But if America truly wants to run itself as a business, it’s important to realize that in the long term, investment in and development of future resources provides the most reliable source of quality product: healthy, happy, well-educated employed Americans.

Concur FAQ

Concur is the federal government’s new system for paying travel expenses.  It is a mystery to everyone.  So here are answers to some of the FAQ from federal employees:

What is Concur?

Concur is an attrition system.

What is an attrition system?

It’s a program designed to lower costs.  Dictionary.com defines attrition as follows:

“1. a wearing down or weakening of resistance, especially as a result of continuous pressure or harassment.   2. a gradual reduction in work force without firing of personnel, as when workers resign or retire and are not replaced”

How does Concur apply attrition to the workforce?

Concur is designed to create high-stress situations that wreck credit ratings and threaten employment for its employees.  These high stress situations cause strokes and heart attacks that remove the older, higher paid employees by death or disability so new employees with lower wages may be hired.

Why does FEMA apply attrition?

To lower it’s budget.

Can we get training about how to use Concur?

Employees get training in Concur either as a confusing, single sheet set of instructions or in small, tightly packed classrooms during which the instructor becomes agitated because of all the questions.  These instructors’ main goals are to lower morale.

What is the Parent/Child thing about?

In the Parent/Child model, Concur is the parent.  You are the child.

Isn’t that demeaning to employees?

Yes, it’s both an ERO and a harassment issue.  However, the ERO department and its staff are also using Concur, so they don’t have time to help employees with any but the most blatant violations.

How long does it take to use Concur?

Let’s add it up:  For each call to Concur’s Helpline you will wait anywhere from eighteen to 30 minutes on hold.  Then it takes another twenty to sixty minutes for them to confuse you completely.

By this time employees are suffering from hypertension, shortness of breath, chest pains, head aches, strokes, cardiac infarction, coronary thrombosis, loss of consciousness, coma or death.

Then they hang up on you.

Add another hour and thirty minutes for the next call.

The average number of times an employee calls the Concur Helpline is six to ten times per voucher at two calls per question.  Then add the two hours it takes to attach receipts one at a time because the uploader, which is supposed to be able to load ten documents at a time only loads one at a time.  So, an employee filing three vouchers for a 30 day work period, at 8 calls of 90 minutes per voucher, plus six hours of uploading receipts, spends approximately 78 hours of government payroll trying to get travel reimbursements.

Why do employees spend so much time on hold while calling the Concur Helpline?

FEMA has approximately eight hundred  Disaster Assistance Employees who only work one or two 30-day periods per year, if at all.  They use Concur for a month, then go as long as 2 to 6 years before they use it again.  The Concur Helpline employs just six people: Portia, Michael, Carmen, Frank, Heidi and Glen.

Why is Concur so confusing?

Concur is an accounting system designed for the convenience of accountants which disaster employees are required to use.  Most disaster employees are not accountants.

What if you make a mistake on Concur?

If you make a mistake on Concur you may get a cryptic email that says, “Your travel document listed below was just stamped RETURNED TO TRAVELER”.   This email has no return address.  Thus it generates another two calls to the Concur Helpline just to find out what the problem is.  Or they may not contact you at all.

What happens if I am unaware of a mistake on my authorization or voucher?

The government credit card goes unpaid, which will result in a lowered credit rating for the employee, an employee security violation and/or loss of employment.

Is Concur going to become more user-friendly?

There is a new interface being designed for Concur.  It was supposed to go into effect in March, then April, then May.  It is still not in place.  And once it is, consider the government’s probable definition of “user-friendly”.

Is there anything I can do to make this process easier?

Inasmuch as the employee has absolutely no control over the process and all the responsibility, there is nothing you can do except turn to drugs, alcohol and aberrant sexual behavior for stress relief.

What if I die on the job of stress-related illnesses exacerbated by Concur?

Your family will be notified and your body shipped to your place of residence.

Who pays for the shipment of remains?

You do.  And you have to use Concur.



Gators on the Fire Truck

It’s so humid I just scratched the air and left marks.

We’re still in Louisiana where Mom is working.  There have been floods, earthquakes and volcanoes wreaking havoc and destruction around the world.  But here in northern Louisiana, we just hope it won’t rain.

It’s been great here.  Mom and I love Louisiana.  It’s beautiful and the people are great.  So’s the food, they say, but eating tiny lobsters is just too much for me.  They’re very spicy and their antlers get in my eyes.  Mom and Annie ate some the other day and some of the girls had frog’s legs and alligator.  Although it’s gratifying to know one of those beasts bit the dust for a meal, I don’t have a taste for lizards.

Speaking of lizards, one of our friends here has been getting marriage proposals.  One of them is from a little guy who is about the size of a garden gnome.  He’s sine dentium which makes him smack his lips when he talks.   And he’s been trying to charm Kathy into going out with him.

Gnome Guy:  “I can take you out in the swamps and show you where the gators are.”  (smack)

Kathy: “I don’t think I want to see them up close.”

GG:   “I know where the bobcats are, too.” (smack)

Kathy:  “I really don’t want to see them either.”

GG:  “I’ll get a fire truck and put you up on top of it and take you out there.” (smack-smack)

Kathy: “You want to put me on a fire truck?”

GG:  “Yeah, I know where the big gators are.  They’re so big they go from one side of the road to the other.” (smack)

Kathy: “I don’t think I want to see anything like that.”

GG: “Well, I can bring you some gator meat.”  (smack-smack)

Kathy: “No, that’s okay.  Thanks, but we can’t take gifts from our customers.”

GG:  “Can I bring you some donuts?” (smack)

He’s very persistent.  He comes in a couple days a week for some good jawin’.  Then he leaves, presumably back into the swamps with the gators and his fire truck.

And they’re others.  Just a few days ago a man came in and sat in front of Kathy.  Her trainer was looking up his case and he was passing Kathy notes.  The notes had his phone number and asked her out.  Kathy tried to ignore him, but he kept doing it.  Finally her trainer asked him point blank, “Is this woman in your case your wife?”

She was.  But still he kept pushing Kathy notes.  Finally she asked, “Why do you want to do that? You’re married!”

He just smiled and passed her another note.  She said, “Where are you going to do something like that?  You have a wife at home!”

He said, “I’ve got a car!”

It was time for him to go.

There have been others as well.  She’s very cute and the fellas seem to like her.  Yet another one tried to entice her, “I have kids downstairs, but I live upstairs. I have furniture and a barn and everything!”

She passed.

The people here are nice.  There’s a lake close by and lots of men and women catch fish from there.   The clothing styles are interesting.  Most people where fairly normal clothes: jeans, tees, blouses, slacks, sneakers.  But we have noticed that a lot of these people are invisible.

Day after day we sense men who walk around dressed in camouflage from head to toe. Because they are in camouflage, of course, they can’t be seen.  So sometimes we see a pair of pants walking around by themselves because the guy is wearing a shirt that blends with the background.  Sometimes we see a “Slap Yo Momma!” tee shirt floating down the street- no pants.  (Camouflage).  Every once in a while you’ll see just a bearded face fly through the door.  They’re wearing camouflage hats, shirts, pants and shoes.

It’s really eerie.

We have some interesting birds here.  Two kinds of blue birds (Mom says maybe Eastern Blue Bird and Blue Jay) and red ones, too (cardinals).  They’re so much more colorful than our brownish-grayish and black birds.  They sound nicer, too.

I’ve only been able to spot three cats since I’ve been here and two dogs.  Not a lot of other animals, some dead possums and armadillos by the side of the road.  I’ve only seen one squirrel.  Maybe they’re being eaten or maybe they’re just scared to show themselves because of the camouflage guys.  Either way, someone around here is doing their best to stop the Squirrel Apocalypse.

We’re getting ready to close down the office here.  Kathy and Annie are leaving tomorrow and the rest of us on Thursday.  Things are dead in here.  Not really dead, but it’s so quiet you could hear a crawfish drop.

Well, gotta go.  There are files to file and curtains to scratch.







Going To The Lake

We’ve been in Louisiana for a while now, and it’s been lots of fun. Mom is working with some really nice folks, so she’s not griping all the way home every day. And I made her promise to show her emails to Annie before sending them so she doesn’t get in trouble.

Originally we were staying at the Faraday Inn. That’s not its real name, but Mom calls it that because neither our wi-fi nor her phone were working there. This was because people had to be able to get hold of Mom and the only way she could call out staff was to stand in the middle of the parking lot in her pajamas (not a pretty sight, let me tell you).

We had to move.
 But now we’re in a really nice place with a little living room (my room, she told me) and a fridge and very good reception. That’s the important thing, keeping the computer going.
So every day Mom and Annie were driving about 30 miles to work and 30 miles back along a nice, straight road and across Lake D’Arbonne. It’s very pretty, and the people who live here say there are lots of cats in it. At first I thought they were actually sending their cats to sleep with the fishes, but no, they meant catfish.
(Whew, that was a close one)
Annie and Mom call the road The Highway to Heaven because there are so many churches on it. On their day off yesterday they wanted to visit the lake. They counted all the churches that were visible along that road. There are nineteen of them! That’s more than a half a church per mile. (.63333333333333333 to be exact). We figure that if the South is the Bible Belt, this road must be the Buckle. There are lots more churches once you get to town, but Annie didn’t have enough toes and fingers to count them all.
The first time we went out to lunch, we drove down a back street. There are several notable places there. First there’s a building with a sign that says:
Memorial Funeral Home
Memorial Life Insurance
I guess it’s a one stop shop for the widow on the go.
Right down across the street is another church. I can’t remember exactly, but it’s something like Blooming Bush or Blooming Tree or Blooming Onion. The Blooming Onion Church. That sounds right.
The next thing you see on the street is a sign that says:
Mom says she always wondered where He hung out. Now she knows. But the building behind the sign is small and old and all boarded up with broken glass. I guess if the Holy Ghost is in there, he’s not coming out anytime soon.
Yet another sign on this road says:
Wait, didn’t Hansel and Gretel go to the Gingerbread House?  Does that mean a witch lives there?  Who eats children?
Wow, that’s a great plan!
But I digress.
Yesterday we wanted to see the Lake up close. So we asked a gentleman in town what would be the best way to get there?
First he said, “Well, I’d send you out here to the development, but the road washed out in the flood.”
“You would have liked going out there. Some millionaire put up a something like 28,000 square foot house.”
That’s over half an acre. (0.64279155 acres to be exact).
“Yeah, that would have been amazing,” Mom said to him. I gave her a look. Sarcasm is not what we needed.
“So you want to go up to the spillway?” he asked.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Mom answered him.
“Well, you can’t go through the development, the road washed out.”
“So is there another way?” Annie asked sweetly.
“Sure. Let me tell you how to get there.”
I thought Mom would take notes, but she didn’t.
Direction Guy: “Go on up through town there on two.”
Mom: “Is that the Silverberg Highway?”
Direction Guy: “Yeah, that’s the one. You turn right on that.”
Mom: “Okay.”
Direction Guy: “So you go on out two, all the way past the Wal-Marts.”
Mom: “I’ve been to that Wal-Marts.”
Direction Guy: “When you get outside town there’s a little bridge.”
Mom: “Bridge, okay.”
Direction Guy: “It’s a little bitty bridge.”
Mom: “Okay.”
Direction Guy: “So you go over the little bridge and go about a half mile, quarter mile.”
Mom just nodded.
Direction Guy: “Then you’ll see a little road off to your right. That’s Bear Bottom road.”
Mom: “Got it.”
Direction Guy: “Okay. You don’t take that.”
By now both Mom and Annie are trying not to giggle.
Direction Guy: “You go a little ways past that and there’s a road that kind of veers off to the right.”
(Hand veers to the right. Annie has to move out of the way)
Mom: “Okay.”
Direction Guy: “You take that up to a four way stop.”
Mom nods again.
Direction Guy: “Then you take a right, and you’re at the spillway!”
Mom and Annie both thank him for his help. We follow his directions, get to the four way stop and turn right (without taking Bear Bottom road). Then we keep going and going and going past houses, a little store and gas stop, an airport, some more houses, one mansion and finally, the spillway.
Annie and Mom get out and look around. It’s really nice, a spot under some shady trees with a breeze blowing off the lake. Out on the spillway there are bunch of people fishing. Annie points to a fisherman in a boat and says, “Wouldn’t that make a nice painting, a fisherman in a boat?” Then we realized he wasn’t fishing, he was trying to untangle his line from some trees sticking out of the water. After he finally gets his line clear, and his other pole gets tangled.
He’s not catching any fish today.
A man came off the spillway. Mom asked, “Did you catch anything?”
He said, “Yeah!”
Mom said, “Can I see?” (She’s so weird)
He says, “sure!”
So we all go and look in his bucket of fish. It was just plain scary. Two of his fish were bigger than me! I went back to the car.  Muscle fish like that can probably jump up on the spillway and eat me.
There’s so much more, but I don’t want anyone getting reader fatigue.
We’ll talk later.

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