Tuesday, June 8, 2021

I'm sad to say that D-Day slipped past me with barely a thought this year. This morning I woke up remembering, two days late. I was 8 years old at the time. My boarding school had been evacuated from the South Downs, in Sussex, to temporary quarters in the Lake District, a safe distance from the military action. The school itself had been turned over to the armed forces for training purposes--the tank tracks we discovered churning up the ground all around the school on our return after the war were evidence of that, as were the clips of live ammunition and various other delightful boy toys we continued to discover in the undergrowth for months, even years later.

Meanwhile, up in the rocky hillsides and the woods around Ambleside, at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, there were many "Huns" that my friends and I would attack and kill with our long stick "rifles" in the course of our war games, only distantly aware of those thousands of men whose real lives were being ripped from them on those beaches to the south, across the English channel.

Americans, to me, were exotic gum-chewing, Lucky Strike smoking creatures from another world. We watched in awe as their convoys of trucks and Jeeps roared through our village. (Did you ever see "Hope and Glory"? That was so much my boyhood...) Our chant from the roadsides, "Got any gum. chum?" was more than just a trite cliche. We actually stood there shouting the words, and the men would throw us fistfuls of Spearmint pack with big American grins. How many of those men I have often wondered, never lived to return home to their country?

We Europeans--I can't help thinking of myself as one still, after nearly 60 years of living this side of the Atlantic--have so much to be grateful for, to America and Americans. It's a sad, sad feeling, these days, to remember that time, and to want so much for all that goodness and generosity and, yes, joy, to return to the many American hearts that seem to have turned sour and bitter, to long for those broad, unstinting, self-confident grins that represented, for me, as a child, what it meant to be American.

Perhaps, one day, the bitterness and bickering will cease and we'll rediscover what Joe Biden promises to be "the soul of America." I hope so. I truly do. Because I know it well enough, from those distant times, to miss it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

RAGE

 I had some kind and thoughtful messages of sympathy in response to my post yesterday, and am truly grateful--especially for those who have become more vigilant as a result of my saga.

A saga it has turned out to be. It is now more than a week since this sorry event started, and the repercussions seem unending--reports and claims to file, notifications, standing banking and credit card orders to be changed, redoubled efforts to protect identity. I spend entire days on the computer and the telephone, negotiating paths through multiple menu options in the effort to reach an actual person to whom I can explain the situation and ask for the action or the help I need.

What comes home is the realization--as though it were a new one!--that we are all now hooked into an invisible, impenetrable network of communications that no longer serves our human needs and interests but instead cannibalizes everything that's human about being human. It's a sobering experience, to have to face it so immediately and with such a deep sense of frustration and, yes, anger. It erupts constantly, a compulsion to throw the bloody telephone at the wall or toss the computer out the window.

So I get to watch my rage. I am thankful for the 25-odd years of meditation practice that allow me to moderate the impact of all this and give me, at least, small moments of clarity.

Monday, May 10, 2021

BE FOREWARNED

WE WERE SCAMMED I fell victim to an online scam last week. It’s embarrassing and infuriating, and I’m sure I’ll look foolish and na├»ve, but I’d like to share what happened so that others may be forewarned. It was a clever scheme and one that’s worth watching out for. 

It started with an email thanking me for my business and notifying me of an annual automatic deduction to renew an online protection service. Not recognizing the source but knowing that I routinely make arrangements for automatic deductions of this kind (GoDaddy, Earthlink, that kind of thing), I called the number to determine the nature of the service (my first mistake! I should have checked my bank accounts and credit cards to be sure that the deduction had in fact been made). 

Offered the option by the “nice” man who responded (why a nice man, I have to wonder now, and not the whole familiar, exasperating menu of options and lengthy holds?), I chose to cancel the service and receive a refund. To close the (lengthy, tedious!) process I was asked to type in the relatively small refund amount requested, but as I did so, the system mysteriously added some extra zeroes before I could stop the order going through. 

Oh no! My new friend was so distressed! My typing error meant that his company had now refunded me a very much larger sum than was intended. Of course, I needed to get their money back to them. My initial attempt to make a suggested wire transfer did not succeed, so they asked for a good faith payment in Target gift cards. (Okay, at this point I should surely have smelled a rat, but… I was reassured by the knowledge that I had a significant amount of “their money” in my account.) That initial request for gift cards was gradually tripled, by the way, but I won’t go into the excruciating detail of the trek from RiteAid to CVS to BestBuy and loading up our credit cards. 

After which, these people were kind enough to facilitate a wire transfer for the much larger balance… (This was early days, still a long time before I discovered that the “mistaken” refund that had arrived in my checking account was not their money at all, but had somehow been shifted over from another of my own family accounts. Their purported “refund” was in fact my own money from the start!) 

There followed literally days of negotiations to make good on what I was persuaded was a genuine mistake, involving financial shenanigans to avoid (at all costs!) having to pay a huge amount of tax on the mysterious, large sum of money that had appeared in my bank account (the IRS wants an explanation for anything more than $10K). More money was paid into my account to cover the dreaded taxes, and more taken out for the same reason. By this time, my head was spinning. I had become so engaged in the process I was unable to stand outside it and see it for the scam it was so obviously becoming. 

Bottom line, long story short, etc., the evidence piled up beyond my capacity to deny it. I realized I’d been had. I first froze all my bank accounts, then closed them and opened others. I alerted the bank’s fraud department and started a process to recall the major wire transfer—which or course may or may not happen. I tried, without success so far, to find someone in the Los Angeles Police Department interested in hearing the story and taking action. There’s a nightmare of reports to be made and consequences to be dealt with, including of course the revision of all my regular auto-deposits (Social Security, retirement plans…), and deductions to pay monthly bills, donate to charities, and so on. It will cost me at least another week of work to sort things out. 

So, friends, please guard against this particular piece of devilish cleverness. Above all, check to see in advance whether anyone thanking you for your business has actually done business with you before. When you read this story, please don’t attribute it only to my gullibility. Of course, there was some of that involved. But you’d be surprised, no matter how vigilant you are, at how easily you can get hooked. Please don’t!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

SO LET IT BE WITH CAESAR...

Eli Broad, who died on Friday, was the only billionaire I ever knew in person. I interviewed him in his home, many years ago. He invited Ellie and myself to join him and his wife, Edythe, for dinner at a posh Italian restaurant. In person, he was courteous, charming, at once himself interesting and interested in others--an important quality in my book. I'm well aware of his reputation as an autocratic philanthropist whose ego matched the scale of his ambitions; and even though many of those ambitions were for the city that he genuinely loved, they were perhaps, as Shakespeare's Mark Antony famously said of Caesar's, "a grievous fault." Certainly, they were held against him by many critics and many who matched wills with him and came off the worse for it. As for Broad, he brushed off such criticism, cheerfully calling himself "unreasonable" and attributing his success to that very quality. "The evil that men do lives after them" continued Mark Antony in his funeral oration. "The good is oft interred within their bones. So let it be with Caesar." In Broad's case it is perhaps the opposite: would we have Disney Hall, for example, without his sometimes bullying efforts? It's in part his philanthropy that turned the once widely mocked Los Angeles into a world cultural center to be reckoned with. May the emperor that was surely a good part of him be buried with his bones.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

LUCKY

 I met with my surgeon yesterday, a full three weeks after the surgery to replace my right hip. It was a good moment to thank him, and compliment him on the orthopedic surgery team that has taken such good care of me from start to... well, not quite finish, because there is a way to go before full recovery, but I'm headed that way. He told me he was "lucky" with the people he works with.

Which reminded me of what I always think--and try to remember to say--when I hear people say they're lucky: that what happens in our lives has little or nothing to do with luck. In the case of my surgeon's team, his "luck" is the expression of everything he puts in to the work he does--the intelligence, the recognition of the skills and dedication of others, the demands he makes of them, his own love for his work and compassion for his patients; all these combine to create his "luck" in having such a team to work with.

He was pleased, I think with the recognition and appreciation, just as I was pleased with the reminder that luck plays only a small part in my recovery. What counts is the extent to which I have taken care of myself in the past and have worked to maintain my strength and keep my weight in at least manageable bounds; and everything I do now to speed recovery, in following the guidelines and practicing the exercise routine, in being as conscious as I can of my body, its limitations and potential, its needs and cautions. 

I watch with amazement and respect as the body works to heal itself, and do everything I can to help it. The doctor, yesterday, suggested finding a new "project" every day to challenge its recovery, and that seems to me an excellent idea. It's early morning, yet, but I'll need to think up something for today. It should not be hard. There's still a long way to go!