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Mike and I have gotten totally hooked on watching Gunsmoke. It’s funny because prior to this, I had never watched an episode of Gunsmoke in my life. It’s the last thing I ever would watch, being the peace-loving hippie that I am, and more than that, being someone who is so upset by unwholesome movies that I don’t watch anything that is even suspenseful, let alone violent. But Gunsmoke is our evening comfort activity, and it is truly saving us!

Every episode is a morality tale, as Mike says. For me, there is so much wisdom and goodness in how Marshall Matt Dillon conducts himself. His authority, bottom line, is based on his being such a fast and accurate shot that he can outshoot almost anyone, and being good with his fists. But he always exhorts and almost begs the bad guys and the merely misguided to not draw, to not do anything stupid that will get them killed. They usually do anyway.

Matt uses such creativity to solve all the constant murders and crimes, that it’s really fascinating. We always joke that Matt Dillon’s main activity is burying the dead, and that it’s a wonder that Dodge City has any inhabitants left!

The Chester Goode character is also fascinating. At first glance he seems lame, and lame-brained as well. But he is actually a good shot with the rifle, and is fearless, maybe simply from his loyalty to Marshall Dillon. Matt clearly feels he can rely on Chester to take the prisoners to jail or anything else that needs to be done. Although Chester drawls on endlessly, it often ends up serving some purpose, and he is an integral character in everything that happens.

That all being said, we have some questions and observations, for any other Gunsmoke loving folks out there. Well, maybe only two questions. Are those bar girls prostitutes? All of them? Why don’t Matt and Miss Kitty get married?

• Everything in the show is historically accurate. There was one show that had a character whose parents were killed by a group called Quantrill’s raiders in an anti-slavery uprising in Lawrence, Kansas. We looked it up and such an incident did happen.
• Marshall Dillon has many “friends” that we’ve never heard of, but they come back into his life … usually in time to have somehow changed and now be trying to kill him.
• Matt Dillon does get shot sometimes, and it seems like it’s always in the left shoulder. We wonder how his shoulder has held up at all!

Most exciting moments:
• Finding out where Marshall Dillon got his horse! As a horse nut, I always noticed that Matt rode a buckskin horse. But nothing was ever said about the horse. Then we watched an early episode in which Matt saved the life of a white boy who lived with the Indians. Someone had stolen a bunch of horses that the boy was watching, and shot the boy, and the horses were in Dodge City. The boy recovered, and snuck out, taking the herd with him … all except the best horse, a buckskin, which he left for Marshall Dillon! Matt has ridden it ever since!
• Another exciting thing is that we own a rental in Pueblo, Colorado. It is an odd town that I had always avoided, because I read such bad things about it on the city-data.com forum, which is a great source of information. But once we went there, we found out that, despite its weirdnesses (general low level of education and difficulty getting anything done right), it is a very old steel town, and has tons of the Victorian, brick and Craftsman houses that I love. Anyway, characters in Gunsmoke are always going to or from Pueblo.
• Lastly, I am excited that Gunsmoke is the longest-running TV show in history – It ran for 20 years, from 1955-1975. So it will be awhile before we run out of episodes to watch!

If you watch Gunsmoke, pay careful attention to the opening, in which Marshall Dillon is often walking around Boot Hill, where the bad guys are buried, and making some philosophical observation or another.

Sometimes I have to take a break from Gunsmoke – I can’t take any more bad guys!  They are so cruel and horrible.  But then I recover and go back for more.  Despite all the great TV shows out there, this is all we want to watch.  Maybe someday we will go to Kansas and visit Dodge City … after the pandemic is over!

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Masks. White, black or blue pleated surgical masks. N95 masks for medical personnel only!
Fashion statement masks of bold flowers or leopard spots.
Something new for our culture, that some cannot accept, and even kill over.

Long hair with dark or gray roots … no hairdresser visits for us!
Toilet paper shortages … what a riot! Why does TP cause us more panic than anything else?
Toilet paper from Amazon turns out to be little half rolls from China!

Life has slowed waaaayyy down.
Hard to find flour or yeast in stores … we have all turned to comfort baking!
Nurseries are packed as we do more gardening!

Many working from home, like we always wanted to (though some not).
Zoom for meetings, virtual birthday parties, music lessons and choir!
It works pretty well once you get the hang of it!

Everyone panicked that they will get flabby without going to the gym.
No cleaning ladies … have to do our own cleaning after umpteen years.
Apps like Zoom, Instacart and Door Dash are saving us.

I feel like we will look back over this period and barely be able to believe it.
The most corrupt and incompetent administration in history presiding over 100,000 deaths.
The great US is now the subject of pity from the rest of the world.

Conspiracy theories of every bizarre variety, repeated by 45.
Armed reopen activists demonstrating with anti-vaxxers … ugh.
Saturday Night Live and every other comedian mocking Trump.

Businesses dropping like flies.
The sad demise of Souplantation and possibly other favorites.
The corrupt distribution of gargantuan sums of money has barely helped.

Inability to get tested for COVID.
Medical appointments over the phone if at all.
Dr. Fauci is the new sex symbol!

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It all began in 2015 when I noticed a strange flaky patch of skin on the side of my nose that would not heal. I went to a dermatologist and he said he would burn it off, but if it came back, I should get a biopsy. He did not mention that time was of the essence. It did come back, but I waited until 2018 to come in for the biopsy, due to my general avoidance of doctors and health issues, I guess. By this time I had researched basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and concluded that that was probably what this was, since one of the signs is “a wound that will not heal.”

I got the biopsy elsewhere since my regular dermatologist was scheduled for months out, and the biopsy confirmed this was a BCC. The derm wanted to do Mohs surgery, in which they cut out the BCC, and then keep cutting away at the edges, or margins, biopsying as they go, until the margins are clear of any cancer cells.

I had seen my mother and others go through Mohs, and although they had ugly holes after the surgery, they generally healed up to where the holes were undetectable. However this BCC was on the side of my nose, and I was very reluctant to get a hole punched in the middle of my face. I rarely wear makeup, so I need to look as good as possible au naturel.

I called friends for referrals to the best plastic surgeons in San Diego. I went to one, and he was not at all encouraging. He said that my BCC was not located in a place where there was skin that could be pulled over it, and that there would be deformity. Then he started talking about cutting a flap or something, and I tuned out … It just seemed like a really bad option.

I went back to my original derm, and he mentioned that radiation was an option. I was so thrilled to hear this, and shocked that no one else had mentioned that any treatment other than Mohs was available.

I went to the cancer center he recommended, and they set me up to do electron beam radiation. However I was not feeling at all comfortable with this either. The doctor in charge seemed to have no particular concern with where the margins of my BCC were, which is the major concern in Mohs surgery, and how he would know if they were zapping the right area. When I asked him how he could tell where my BCC was, he said, “by looking”! Well, if that were true, why did I get a biopsy at all? It just didn’t add up to me.

Plus my original derm had noted that my BCC had “moved” from where he had first seen it in 2015. What sense did that make? Cancer does not “move,” it spreads! Now I was really scared and just in a state of shock over doctors saying things that did not make any sense.

So I started doing my own internet research. I found something called Superficial Radiation Therapy, or SRT, which claimed to be a more appropriate and less damaging form of radiation for treating BCC’s. It had a very slightly lower “success” rate than Mohs, but was still highly successful, and sounded much better to me than anything else I had found. I looked online but could not find any doctors in San Diego or Orange County who did it.

So I called Sensus, the company that manufactures the SRT machines. They gave me a list of doctors that have SRT machines. There was one in Hillcrest, right near where I live, and I went to see him. Although he had a stellar résumé, a number of things made me uncomfortable. He would set up the SRT treatments, but the person who did the actual treatments was the same woman who answered the phones in his office! When I asked her about her credentials, she did not say anything related to radiation!

I did ask this doctor why so few derms have SRT machines. He said he’d had to go through a huge professional certification ordeal in order to be able to use the machine, and he thought this was why more doctors did not have them. Also that Mohs is more profitable … surprise, surprise.

But I was still uncomfortable about his lack of concern about the margins of my BCC. Then I remembered that Sensus also manufactures “SRT Vision” machines. These include ultrasound, which shows the actual BCC, with every treatment. So I called Sensus again, and they told me there were two doctors in California with SRT Vision machines – one in San Francisco and one in Marina del Rey.

I looked up the derm in Marina Del Rey on Yelp, and she had mixed reviews. A number of reviews described how abrupt and terrible her bedside manner was, while others extolled her knowledge and that she was a diplomate with the state board of dermatology. I had a hard time even proceeding after reading these reviews, but finally forced myself to call her office to ask some questions. Within a few minutes they put the doctor herself on the phone! She answered all my questions and couldn’t have been nicer! So I made an appointment to go to Marina del Rey for a consultation with her.

Mike and I took the train up to Marina del Rey, and talked with her extensively. We really liked her, and she ultrasounded my entire nose. She confirmed that the BCC was only in the area where the flaky skin was. So that anxiety on my part was put to rest. I liked her practice so much that I thought I would just go to her.

After awhile, however, the reality of needing to take 17 trips to LA started to worry me. It had taken all day to go up and back on the train, and I knew I would go insane doing that even one more time. I thought I might drive, starting off very early, but it would be at least a two hour drive.

My original plan had been to go to the derm in Hillcrest if my case was straightforward, which it was, so I thought I would go back to that plan, despite my concerns. But I called his office and he could not start until after Christmas, which would be a month or two. They also routinely did 13 treatments, which I knew from the derm in LA was considered the “travel challenged” protocol, and I didn’t like that idea either. I preferred the regular 17 treatment protocol – a larger number of gentler treatments.

So I could barely believe I was doing this, but I called another doctor, the seventh at this point – in San Juan Capistrano – and went for a consult with him. He told me that radiation can cause cancer, so I should consider it carefully. He said he did quite well with Mohs surgery on the nose, and that his most successful procedures involved taking cartilage from the ear and inserting it in the hole. Ouch. He asked me what my biggest concern was, and said that in terms of the cosmetic result, SRT probably was the best option. He recommended doing the 17 treatment protocol rather than the 13, saying they had found it gentler and better, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

He also had a dedicated radiation therapist, Kim … another sigh of relief … who also drove up from San Diego, and I really liked her. She told me what I could expect at every stage of SRT treatment, and even introduced me to her own mother, in her 80s, who was from South Carolina but staying with her for awhile in order to get SRT! Her mom had already had Mohs and reconstruction on her nose, but another BCC appeared, and she did not want to go through Mohs again. Her mother’s nose looked very red, but she said it did not hurt, and I figured I could live through some major redness.

Kim also advised me to buy a cream called Miaderm, which was specifically formulated for skin undergoing radiation treatment, on Amazon. I was again so relieved, because I had a feeling that it would be helpful to use some sort of a cream, but the other doctors I’d talked to did not recommend doing so.

So I started on my twice-weekly sojourns to San Juan Capistrano. I actually really enjoyed the one-hour early morning drive, listening to my book downloads and watching the sunrises and ocean views! Kim was a really warm and interesting woman. It turned out we had a lot of odd things in common, such as that her daughter was a college rower … and strangely or sadly enough, these treatments and visits were often the highlight of my day!

I took a few photos as I went, in order to be able to publish my story with photos. I swore to myself that no one else would have to go to as much trouble as I had to find SRT. I don’t know why doctors don’t seem to advertise their SRT services online … or at least I could not find them online or on Yelp.

I just finished my final treatment today. I will post another photo and followup when my nose goes back to normal! But since I know there are a gazillion people out there facing BCC treatment, I thought I would publish my story right away. I think everyone deserves to know that SRT is an option!

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Constance Lerner was born on September 20, 1929 in New York City, to Max and Anita Marburg Lerner. Both her parents were college professors.  Max’s family had immigrated to the US when he was a young child, from Pinsk, Russia, to avoid the pogroms against Jews.  He became a syndicated columnist and prolific author.  Connie was raised largely by nurses as both her parents worked.  She attended City and Country School, an iconic progressive school in Greenwich Village, which she loved.  Her parents had two more daughters, Pamela and Joanna.  Then they divorced, and Anita moved with the girls to Boulder, Colorado, where Connie attended high school.  She played clarinet in the marching band, and always carried a book of poetry in her pocket.  She returned to the east coast to attend Smith College for two years, and then Sarah Lawrence College.  Sarah Lawrence did not have majors, but I know she studied Greek, Latin and French. My parents occasionally spoke in French when they did not want me to understand them!

In her last year of college, a young man, recently returned from serving as a bombardier in the 12thAir Force in World War II, was hanging out in the school cafeteria. He liked to go to local colleges to check out the girls.  He noticed a beautiful girl who went through the cafeteria line three times!  Yes, my parents loved food!  They met, and the rest is history.  I would say that the main thing they had in common was that both had been in psychotherapy, which was a young discipline at that time, for years. In fact, my mother had taken a “time out” at a sanitarium for six months mid-college, after suffering a nervous breakdown.

My mother worked at the New York Times, as secretary to the Sunday Editor, during the early years of her marriage.  She loved working there, would pitch story ideas at times, and got a few published.  She also represented the New York Times in a beauty contest, and was chosen as runner-up.  Meanwhile, her husband, Richard Russell, worked as a textile salesman and designer in the garment district of New York.  His boss was Alfred Schlossberg, father of Edwin Schlossberg, who later married Caroline Kennedy.  After receiving a small inheritance and tirelessly researching how to invest it, Richard discovered the work of Charles Dow, and had found his inspiration and main influence.  With my mother’s encouragement, he quit his job to start Dow Theory Letters, his investing newsletter.  He eventually became a well-known financial writer, who added his many thoughts about the arts, politics, lifestyle, psychology, and anything else on his mind; which many subscribers found to be very addictive reading.

Connie quit work right before her first daughter, Daria, was born.  Daria was followed by Nicole two years later. Nicki did not develop as expected. When she was two, she was diagnosed with autism, which was almost unknown at the time.  She was physically normal, but never developed speech. Nicki got sick a lot, and Richard decided to move the family to sunny San Diego, which he was familiar with due to his love of cacti.  It was a bold move to relocate from one of the world’s centers of culture to what was a backwater navy town at the time, and friends thought the Russells had lost their minds.  But move they did, and never looked back.  We moved into a house practically on the campus of San Diego State University, where we lived for six years.

My parents mainly socialized with other Jewish families, many of whom they met through an old army buddy of my father’s, Jules Pincus.  However they did not attend synagogue or formally practice the religion. My parents discovered encounter groups at the local Jewish Center.  This happened during a family crisis, precipitated by my father’s unfortunate and apparently psychologically driven habit of shoplifting.  He was caught, and my parents were in terrible fear for weeks that he would lose his license from the SEC and thus lose his livelihood. Instead the judge sentenced him to counseling, which encounter groups were considered a form of.  He did not lose his livelihood, but did eventually lose his marriage, as an indirect result of this.  My mother also participated in the encounter groups, and found her inspiration for the rest of her life.

My sister Betsy was born, five years after Nicki.  I had begged my parents to have another child, which they were reluctant to do after Nicki.  But Betsy was normal, beautiful, charming, a born actress, and lit up all of our lives.

Connie was a wonderful musician, who had played piano from a young age, and later learned guitar and accordion as well.  Both my parents were enamored of the folk music movement of the sixties, and decided to open a folk singing coffee house.  They found a closed-down candy factory on El Cajon Blvd., and decided to keep the sign and name.  Thus The Candy Company was born, and managed by Cliff Niman.  They had many world-class folk singers there, including Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton, Hoyt Axton, Jack Tempchin and many others.

On the sad side, their marriage had always been rocky.  This was the sixties, and both my parents had extramarital affairs, which they were open about, their main creed being radical honesty.

Meanwhile, my parents had struggled mightily with Nicki, their autistic daughter, who was never toilet-trained, and became increasingly agitated and disruptive.  She screamed frequently and in public, threw fits that included jumping up and down and hyperventilating, and during the night she smeared feces over the walls of her room and destroyed everything she could, including pulling bathroom fixtures out of the walls.  My mother had her on a child leash whenever we went out, so she did not run into traffic and get killed.

Half the time, Nicki was so skinny we were afraid she would starve to death.  She would only eat foods of a certain color.  She went through a phase of orange foods, in which she ate a ton of carrots, and her skin became tinged with orange.  Later in life she decided she liked food, and ate so much that she became obese.

My parents sent Nicki to Blueberry, a pricey boarding school in New York, the best school they could find for someone with autism, for a year and a half, when Nicki was five.  I was so relieved, as our family life was finally “normal.”  But Blueberry was unable to help Nicki, or even get her toilet-trained, and the nightmare returned.  We had live-in help to care for Nicki and the house, and this went from one person to three non-family members living in our home at all times.  It meshed with my parents’ increasing interest in encounter groups, which they held a couple of times per week at our house.  My mother became the “leader” in this interest.  I escaped to the world of horses, which I loved; first in Bonita, and then at La Jolla Farms.

My father then decided to move us to La Jolla, which I was unhappy over, as I’d wanted us to move to Bonita where my horse was.  But La Jolla actually turned out to be a happy place, at least for me, while I attended junior high there.  My parents lasted another five years in La Jolla Shores, with the encounter groups and the whole menagerie.  Then they divorced, while I was attending a hippie boarding school in the Santa Cruz mountains.

After the divorce, my mother bought a church property in Pacific Beach, which included a sanctuary, small house, two-story dormitory, large “fellowship hall” and parking lot. She continued with her encounter group calling, now in the context of a commune.  Hundreds of people had passed through her evening encounter groups, and a handful decided to essentially devote their lives to the work, joining the commune.  Connie started a non-profit organization called The Psychotheology Center, combining her interests in psychology and spirituality.  It later was renamed The Center for Psychological Revolution, and later The Center for the Examined Life.  Though it was usually just referred to as “the group.”  My mother talked me into joining her group when I was seventeen, and I remained with it for ten years.  Betsy left when she was twelve and lived with my father and his second wife, Paula.

Connie was essentially operating as an unlicensed therapist, and the “work” at the Center consisted of around-the-clock “groups,” caring for Nicki and the property, and part-time work to sustain ourselves.  Most of us settled on working as school bus drivers for Francis Parker school, which paid a decent wage but was very part-time.

Connie often referred to her “change,” when she felt her life had completely turned around, due to her involvement in encounter groups, honesty, and coming out of her shell, I guess. She celebrated this “anniversary” yearly.  Her goal was for others to experience this as well, and the work of the Center was directed toward the “cure” of its participants.  Connie believed in telling the truth, not just in the encounter groups, but 24-hours-a-day.  This led to rifts with her family and others.

There was much discussion of moral or character precepts, psychological and spiritual principles. My mother was very much ahead of her time, I feel, in her veneration of honesty, the power of small groups, and the need for admitting one’s needs and vulnerabilities.  I feel that her work foreshadowed the self-help movement (small groups), reality television (unvarnished honesty) and vulnerability as recently espoused by authors such as Brené Brown.  She believed in the power of small groups to change the world.  She also had a strong interest in relationships and sexuality. While a strong advocate of commitment and marriage, she also pioneered a concept she called “stellar mates.”  She felt everyone had an “earthly mate” (spouse) and “stellar mate,” which was like a therapeutic and spiritual partner.

Connie was quite a writer herself.  She wrote an autobiographical article called “How the New Yorker Ruined My Life” and submitted it for publication, but it was not accepted.  She self-published a book she wrote called, Nicki: Notebook for a Theory of Autism.  I still remember her purchasing an old printing press, and group member Joe Prenn getting it working and printing the book! It came out beautifully and I wish I still had a copy!

Connie bought an old school bus, circa 1957, which we all learned to drive.  It not only had a stick shift, but you had to double-clutch it. But we learned, and getting our Class II licenses launched us into our later careers as school bus drivers!  Marel rewired the bus and Joe refurbished it with bunk beds and storage bins on top.  We took a trip across country to visit with other intentional communities. Mike Gutstadt and others created a film of the experience, called Five American Gurus.  I wish I still had a copy!

Connie was helpful to many people, but the group had a definite abusive side.  This was due to its more or less being a cult, her complete control over others, the anger and criticism of her relentless confrontations, and things devolving into her classifying people as “good” or “bad.”  She reserved her strongest criticism for narcissists, again being ahead of her time in identifying this problematic trait, and “bitches,” her word for the female equivalent of narcissists.  People were also essentially used to care for Nicki, and gave up many years of their lives for questionable gains.

People slowly left the group, and she and the few remaining committed souls instituted a program of “exchangers,” where anyone who needed housing could live at the Center in exchange for contributing work, in the form of caring for Nicki or the property. Overseeing all of this was quite taxing, and her health was always on edge.  I finally convinced her that she needed to end this experiment, and after about twenty years, she sold the property and got out of her “group” business.

During the next period she joined a group for Jewish senior singles, where she made some wonderful friends. She moved to an apartment near us in Mission Hills.  She joined a painting class, which she really enjoyed, where they painted from photographs. She met a man who taught an acting class, and joined his circle of friends.

Then she had a fateful meeting with a group of people who called themselves the “As God All Lives” group. This group was led by a man who called himself Christ Roses, and had around twenty followers.  This group was actually similar to my mother’s group (only more extreme), in that there was a small “core” who lived communally, plus other more distant members, and they engaged in a form of all-day meditative prayer they called “sounding,” and had multi-day meetings with their leader periodically.  They ate a raw vegan diet that consisted mostly of salads, fruits and nuts.  My mother joined this group full-time, and followed it when they moved to Hawaii.

She lived in Hawaii for about ten years.  She took Nicki with her, and several members of this group cared for Nicki.  All of this care of Nicki, who needed 24-hour, one-on-one care, was always paid for by my father; so this was how many people survived over the years.  We visited Connie once in Hawaii, and Betsy visited periodically.  My mother was very enamored with one of the group members, As God All Lives Richard.  Her feelings were not returned in kind, though he was fond of her and helped her a great deal in her spiritual progress, I would say.  I always felt it was poetic justice that my mother had led a cult for many years, and then she joined a cult.

Finally I got a call from Richard that Connie was ready to leave.  I was teaching and could not leave my job, so my husband Mike flew to Hawaii to bring her back.  There are varying accounts of everything about my mother’s life.  My sister Betsy believes she was kicked out of the As God All Lives group because of her “food cheating,” in that she occasionally would eat a salad (minus the meat) at Taco Bell!  I would say they kicked her out because she was near death, due to their diet. Although this group still cares for my mother’s elderly and near-blind cousin, Suzanne, whom my mother introduced them to.

So Connie returned to San Diego, and I was able to rent a house across the street from us for her to live in, which was a godsend.  She was not in good shape, and Earl, a former group member and old motorcycle buddy of my father’s from the time Earl was a teenager, moved in to care for her.  She spent about fifteen years there.  She faithfully went to Curves gym for many years, for as long as she could.  After my father’s third wife left him, when he was 87, Earl or one of her other caretakers would take her to his house to visit, daily.  They did not talk much, but enjoyed being together for several hours every day.

Connie had Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life or so … it’s hard to say.  We were extremely blessed to have such loving, competent, patient and tireless caretakers for my father, and then my mother: Editha Espiritu, a dentist from the Philippines, and later her son Robin and his wife Kim. Also my old friend Sharon, who heightened the quality of their lives immeasurably with her foot rubs, music, singing, and practicing her weekly talks for her church on them; plus her beautiful daughter Monica, who also provided care.

Getting back to the story of Nicki, As-God-All-Lives Richard, Anne, Marianah and sometimes Michael cared for Nicki for over 20 years, well beyond the time that Connie left their group. Then one day I got a call out of the blue that they could no longer care for Nicki, and I needed to pick her up immediately.

This was a complete shock, and I scrambled to figure out what to do with Nicki.  Thousands if not millions of people in the US are struggling with where to place their autistic children, and it is not easy.  A friend told me about a wonderful community in Arizona, the state where Nicki had actually been living for some years, after her caretakers moved there from Hawaii, called Rainbow Acres.  Mike and I flew to Arizona several times to make all the arrangements for Nicki to have a provisional stay there.  However after two months of a three-month trial, they did not accept her.  The Espiritus said they were happy to care for her in addition to Connie, so that’s what happened.  I don’t think they had any idea what they were getting into, but they never complained.

While in San Diego, Nicole received services from the Regional Center including their Tailored Day program and respite care, both one-on-one care programs.  We had two fantastic behavioral specialists who worked with Nicole, Jara and Sari, who both provided loving and brilliant behavioral support.  Jara took Nicole around Ocean Beach, and many store and restaurant proprietors became friendly with her.

We had various crises, including Nicole’s fingertip being bitten off by an equine therapy horse, which led to several hospitalizations, and an overzealous and imaginative caretaker reporting us to Adult Protective Services.  We got through all of that, but it was still difficult to find enough caretakers, let alone get them to stay.  Finally Nicole got a better social worker at the Regional Center, who provided us with ideas for day programs and group homes that actually had a chance of working.

We tried to place Nicole at Brisas del Sol, a wonderful group home in Boulevard, east of San Diego, but after a weekend stay, they did not accept her.  Mike and I made another round of visits of day programs, and liked the ARC program in Kearny Mesa, which Nicole attended during the last months of her life.  It was the first time she had ever succeeded in a day program … i.e. not been kicked out. She was transported in a special bus with other clients, which I think she enjoyed.  The staff at the day program found her challenging but were fond of her, and she was progressing in going with their program.

The Espiritus also brought in additional relatives from the Philippines – brother Paul and cousin Andre – so we finally had enough caretakers.  After her day program, Paul and Andre would take Nicole for a long walk, and out to eat at Jack-in-the-Box or another place she enjoyed.  The Espiritus also took her on outings such as the beach and Sea World, which I’m glad she got to finally visit.

On the last day of their lives, Robin was about to shower Nicole, when she had a seizure.  She’d had several grand mal seizures in her life, usually as a result of her ingesting a non-food or drug that did not agree with her, and was on anti-seizure medication.  There was no apparent reason for this seizure, but they called me, and Mike and I went across the street.  I told them to let Nicole stay where she was lying and sleep it off.  Sometime later they came over, saying that Nicole was not breathing.   She had died, for no known reason.  Robin told Connie, who got tears in her eyes, and then she stopped breathing, an hour or two after Nicole.

We all felt it was sweet and fitting that this mother who had devoted so much of her life to Nicole departed from the earth at the same time.  Maybe Nicole did not want to live without Connie, whose time was clearly almost up.  Connie either wanted to follow and still be with Nicole, or perhaps felt that her job was finally finished.  What a job she did.  May they both finally communicate with each other, and joyfully cavort in heaven together.

— Daria Russell Doering



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I had a hard time assembling my remarks, because I couldn’t quite decide which direction to go in with this.  So I decided to do what I always do, when possible, which is to go in both directions. Starting with the difficult one.  So here goes.

It’s often hard for me to talk about my life at all.  Because I feel like almost all of it has been tinged with pain.  And I don’t believe in suffering in silence either.  Though I have to say, like pretty much everything in my life, I got this belief from my mother.  Sometimes I forget that for a bit, but everything always comes back to her.  In this case her belief that through shining a light, the light of truth or transparency, on our pain, we can heal it.  I’ve been trying to take opportunities to heal my pain, all my life. This is another opportunity, and I feel that I’m surrounded by loving friends.  So I hope you will bear with me and bear witness to all of this.

While going through all these photographs, in preparing the slideshow, I was struck with what a nice little family we seemed to be.  And I thought – What happened?  Why did it end?  Why did they get divorced?  Then I remembered, of course – Nicki, the encounter groups – those two things just blew it all apart.

When I mentioned this thought to my daughter, she said – “I think something happened when you moved to California,” which is true – this crazy, wonderful state of California can cause all sorts of odd things to happen.  Nina also said, “Maybe your mother didn’t have enough to do,” and that’s also true.  If she’d had a career, things might have been very different.  She created her own career, completely made it up, and it was very radical.

Back to the subject of pain, I believe strongly that sharing our pain brings healing … and that’s a lot of what my mother was about … she had a lot of pain herself.  A lot of it you could call sexual pain or relationship pain, which was my mother’s specialty, I would say.  Her pain came from her upbringing and her parents’ divorce and so on.

So guess what, folks, I’m sharing my pain.  It’s in what I wrote in the bio, most of which I don’t normally talk about – everything from having an autistic sister who ruined my life, to be honest, to my parents’ “open marriage” and affairs, to a bunch of strangers living in our house when I was a child and teenager, to my father being arrested, to ten years of being “confronted” about my character flaws by my mother.

All l I ever wanted was to fit in, to be normal and live a normal life, and I sure as hell never got that chance.  It was not in the cards for me.  I had everything from a sister who didn’t talk, who everywhere we went emitted blood curdling screams and ate garbage off the ground … to these huge honesty encounters at our house.

Plus I really received no guidance.  We were never part of a religious community.  So many people feel they were abused by religion … my view is – give me a break, it also kind of tells you what to do in life, and I didn’t have that. Plus the main thing is that my parents, especially my mother, were these big laissez-fair parents.  My mother used to say, “Do whatever you want as long as you tell us.”  That was cool, in a way … I appreciated not being overly “controlled.” But it also wasn’t cool, because I always felt like I was wandering in the dark, ignorant, confused, that I didn’t know how to act or what was expected of me.  And that’s not my nature. I’m a perfectionist, or at least a conscientious person.  I like to do everything right.  And I didn’t know what was right.  So I’ve taken the rest of my life trying to figure that out!  Being in my mother’s group was part of that.

Of course my spiritual belief is that we all choose our parents and the main events of our lives before we are born.  So I am quite sure that this is what I signed up for.  But I think that the way life goes, we sign up for something challenging, and then once we are living it, we think – hey, I think I want to return this life! I can’t do this!  This is too hard!  But that’s not how it works.  It’s too late! We’re stuck!  And I’m sure that’s for the best.

So back to the bio … well, I thought I was writing a short obituary, but it turned into a six-page narrative.  For some reason, everything I write turns out to be six pages long, I have no idea why.  Anyway I ended up thinking the story needed to be told, and I don’t have an hour up here so I wrote it down, just the bare outline, really.

I wrote down the facts as I remember them.  I told the story straight, dark as it might be at times.  My main feeling was, by God, I had to live through this, so I don’t feel it’s fair to me and my experience or to anyone else involved and their experience to cover anything up.

However the painful aspects are not what I think about anymore … almost never at this point … my focus is on all the good that happened.  So that will be the focus from here on out.  I will try to switch gears completely and talk about the good things.

My husband Mike and I will do our crazy brand of presentation here.  While I am always overly serious, Mike tends to lightens things up. And I don’t even see this as a serious occasion.  My mom had a life well-lived, that’s for sure.  She always tried to be happy, with varying degrees of success.  And Nicki … I don’t know … I hope she gets some karmic credit for all she went through.  And all her caretakers as well.

And my wonderful husband … I used to utterly upset him with all my crazy ideas, but now he just says, “There’s nothing I can’t do with a shot or two of tequila,” and carries on!

To begin with, and most importantly, my mother was the inspiration for everything I am, everything I have done in my life and everything I ever will do.  And I mean that 100%.  She was an amazing teacher.

Some of you may know a lot about the serious part of my mom, but I wanted to talk about some of the lighter parts, the ways we had fun together.  So I’m going to relate some memories, which are kind of random, which Mike will help me with, and I will comment on some of the items on the Alter of Life that I put together.

When I was a child in New York, what I ate every morning for breakfast was macaroni & cheese from a can … Franco America.  I couldn’t find that brand in the store, so I looked on the internet.  What I found was a Facebook group of “Fans of Franco-American macaroni & cheese,” with over 600 members!  So I joined it, and brought these cans of Chef Boy-R-Dee, which isn’t nearly as good.

Other foods she used to make for me – I was the oldest child, so they were just for me – were junket, a sort of curdled milk pudding that was popular 60 years ago – and you can still buy Junket rennet tablets to make it – and rice pudding, which is still around.  I was a carb-o-holic from a young age.

My mom was always a fantastic musician.  She had a beautiful singing voice.  She played piano from the time she was a child.  She said that she spent hours a day practicing piano as a teenager.  She was sort of down on herself over it, as she felt she had escaped from life with music and books, but I consider it time well spent.

Later she learned guitar and then accordion, which I love and feebly try to play myself.  On the Alter of Life, you can see a little guitar and accordion … not hers, but small ones we had.  Also a Stephen Foster song book … she loved Stephen Foster who wrote so many classics in the mid 1800s … everything from “Oh Susanna!,” “Old Folks at Home” (Way up and down the Swanee River) and “My Old Kentucky Home” to “Old Black Joe” and “Massa’s in the Cold Hard Ground.”  But our very favorite book was the Fireside Book of Folk Songs, written by Margaret Bradford Boni, who was one of Connie’s teachers at the City and Country School … she loved her and told stories about her occasionally.

Another strong memory I have was of my parents always reading to me before bed.  My dad read me all the Dr. Doolittle books, and my mom read me all the Mary Poppins books, there are three, and some of the Wizard of Oz books, both of which were her very favorites.  Kids today probably don’t even know that over 30 Wizard of Oz books were written.  One of my very favorite books was The Five Little Peppers … there were also 6-8 of those books, though my mom said the later ones, after the Peppers went to live with wealthy friends, were not as good as the first book, in which they were very poor. I still remember my mom saying that Mrs. Pepper did sometimes go on and on about things in the book, such as how “dear” candles were … there was no electricity in those days, and even candles were too expensive to use very much.  There were so many other books, but one of my all-time favorites, which we read much later at the Center was Pollyanna.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you that there is anything bad about Pollyanna … it’s one of the greatest books ever written.

In general my mom was an Anglophile … she loved anything English, although I don’t think she ever actually went to England … but that’s why I have the tea cup and saucer on the alter.

My mom was artsy in other ways.  When I was 8 or 10 she collected boxes to make pop art sculptures, which Andy Warhol was doing then.  She collected soap boxes, cereal boxes, any boxes, and glued them together.

She also, although the home I grew up in, in the elementary school years, was rented and very modest, kept a scrapbook of home decorating ideas, and that was really fun.  I still remember that there was a kitchen we both loved that was like a ‘50’s style diner, with red round bar stools, spiral striped pedestals, maybe red horses that you could sit on in there somewhere, maybe a black and white checkerboard floor … I just loved it.

My parents finally bought a house, when I was 12, in La Jolla Shores, a few blocks from the beach, for $55,000.  Those were the days!  They had looked at so many houses that their realtor finally said “to hell with it” and sold them his own house!  Then they actually got to do some minor remodeling … they put down some new flooring, which I think was vinyl, created two more bedrooms out of some spaces that had been something else, for our large live-in population, and they had some furniture made – couches for our living room with huge drawers beneath them that were actually day beds, with twin mattresses and lots of interesting pillows in the back … for our frequent visitors to sleep on.

Some other things I appreciate about my mom were:

She always encouraged me to take lessons … when I was a child I took roller skating lesson and horseback riding lessons, which she had suggested, even though she was afraid of horses herself.

She taught me how to choose the right husband and be married – even though her own marriage had fallen apart, she taught me what I needed to know.  Her belief was that husbands and wives should go their separate ways, as long as they were faithful and came together at night.

She and my dad loved food … they also loved being thin and fit, so she never fried anything in her entire life.  But she was an excellent cook, and I learned so many dishes and recipes from her.  Some had a French twist.  One of her favorites to cook was cheese soufflé.

We also had a dream when I was little called “food day,” or the day we were finally going to get to eat whatever we wanted!  I was finally going to get to have more than one taco from Taco Bell, and that just seemed like heaven!  We made a list of all the foods we were going to eat … Sadly it never came to pass, or maybe that was just as well!

So we had our dreams: food and interior design, and what we actually did, which was horses, books and music!  Not bad!

Incidentally, I grew up in what I call the cradle of civilization of the fast food industry – the SDSU college area.  I grew up going to one of the first Jack-in-the-Boxes, the very first Taco Bell, the very first Der Weinerschnitzel, and much later, the very first Rubio’s, in Pacific Beach.  I get a kick out of that.

And I need to mention clothes!  We both had an absolute passion for Lanz clothes.  You may know the famous nightgowns, often with Tyrolean stripes, flowers and hearts.  Back in the day, Lanz also made a line of dresses, and had stores.  We would take these monster shopping trips to Lanz when they had a sale.  They must have blanched when they saw us coming, because we would try on half the clothes in the store … just stacks and stacks of clothes … and buy a few items. Then they would be left with all these clothes to put away.  We did get some awesome clothes.  And I still have “the hat”!  We were both obsessed with this hat, which one of us bought at Lanz, and would trade it back and forth.

Moving on to the group years, probably my most outstanding memory that maybe encapsulates it all was when the APA, the American Psychological Association, was going to have its convention in San Diego, and my mother decided we should go and do guerilla theater there.  So we trooped down to the community concourse, or wherever it was, set up a booth with my mother’s writings, and our props, and acted out something or other. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember the daring it took to do this.

My parents both displayed such raw courage that it’s mind-boggling.  It blew my mind.  Not physical courage, but emotional courage.  Both my parents took risks, bucked the trend, and were fighters. They were seekers for truth, personal healing, and a better world.

My mother was nothing if not experimental … she experimented with how to help people, honesty, relationships.  She made plenty of mistakes, but she put herself out there and tried.  Studies show that people’s greatest regrets are not from what they do, whether it succeeds or fails, but from what they don’t do. Connie did something, and gave it her all.

My parents were both amazing people, and it has taken me my whole life to come to terms with being their child.  I’m still trying to live up to their legacy, or complete it.

I never needed to go far afield for inspiration … my parents were just it!  Also my grandparents, my mother’s father was a prolific author and my father’s mother was a best-selling author as well.  They spanned the globe, so to say, from the social sciences to psychology to finance to Hollywood.  So whatever bad things I said about any of them, forget it, unimportant, I just feel very grateful and blessed …

So hail to the truth! Hail Constance and Nicole!  Both one-of-a-kind type individuals.  Adelante!  Or as my mother would say, Onward and Upward!  Or if that seemed like too much, she would say, “Put one foot in front of the other.”  Or as my grandmother said, “the key to writing is to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

So there you have it. If you want my mother’s view of how her parents and the New Yorker magazine ruined her life, you can read her article, which is the only one of her writings that I have.  I also noticed, after reading it for the first time in over 40 years, that it is six pages long.

If you want my view of how my parents and sister ruined my life, you just heard it and perhaps read it.

And some day my children may comment on the same.  I hope not, as I sure tried to break that cycle, but I’m not sure if I succeeded. I don’t even know if it’s possible. My mother once told me that no matter what I did, my children would still be neurotic and need to see therapists. Which really pissed me off, but what else is new.

And if you think I’m terrible for saying all this, all I can tell you is that it’s what my mother would have wanted.  I am my parents’ child.

I haven’t said much about Nicki, maybe for obvious reasons.  I will say one thing.  That since her passing, I keep dreaming about her.  In these dreams, I am being nice to her, hugging her, something I have to admit did not happen in real life.  We are reconciling in the spirit world of dreams.


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How the New Yorker Ruined My Life

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Battle Royale

Battle royale with AT&T yesterday, one of my least favorite companies (because it’s always like this with them). Since we are all now working from home, I had switched our business account from a landline to a “remote only” account with just a SIM card and calls forwarded to our office manager’s home. I was really happy to get this type of account since it is only $45/month as opposed to the $200/month we had been paying for several landlines. Suddenly yesterday our office phone number stopped working completely, I guessed because we had been switched to the new system but our line was not forwarded yet. This was a bad situation because we receive much of our revenue over the phone. 
I called AT&T to try to find out what was going on. However they would not talk to me without the account number (which I did not have, because they apparently switched our account to a new account number, and none of the emails from them contained it) or the serial number from the SIM card (which I had not received).  I tried to gain online access to our account, so I could get the account number, but their system would not allow me to register online and told me to call them. They switched me back and forth between departments for literally hours. No amount of explaining or threatening on my part helped. 
Finally they told me to go to an AT&T store to get a SIM card. This jibed with what I had concluded during the unhappy time when Mike and I were AT&T U-Verse customers – you will waste hours of time trying to accomplish anything over the phone, and the only way to get any service from AT&T is to go to their store (a large one, not a small one, where you will similarly get no service).  I was incredulous that it had come to this, since I am convalescing and can barely walk, even with crutches. So Mike borrowed my mother’s wheelchair and took me out for the first time since my surgery to the AT&T store. I learned how to go up and down stairs on crutches, as this was necessary to get to the car. 
At the store, after waiting, of course, with my injured foot elevated onto one of their chairs, they tried to convince us that I could not possibly have a remote-only account, they do not exist, I had to have a cellphone attached to the account, etc. This is a company where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, to an extreme. They finally did produce a SIM card. A helpful employee did a workaround by inserting the SIM card into one of their phones and forwarding our business line to the employee’s home. Problem solved – six hours later. Though I still have no online access to our account and cannot manage it. The store folks said they would have a business representative call me … we’ll see if that happens. But just grateful our phone is working.


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Good-Bye, Suite 404


Spent the day cleaning out my father’s office. What got me inwardly weeping was having to recycle the simple tools of his trade. My dad was a technical stock market analyst, one of the originators of that whole field. The tools of his trade were chart paper of many different sizes and grid types, his T-squares with which he drew the charts, the rubber cement with which he glued stuff together, pencils, erasers and drafting tools.

He published a newsletter, originally every 10 days, then lengthening it to every three weeks, but then with the advent of the internet, he went the other way and began publishing daily. He loved to write, and freed from the labor of having to mail out his writing, he relished the ability to publish his thoughts daily.

But he also continued to mail his every-three-weeks letter to those who preferred to read a paper copy. The tools of that trade were envelopes – tons of envelopes, renewal notices in a different color for every month of the year, a huge Pitney-Bowes postage meter, all kinds of “first class,” “air mail” and many other ink stamps and post office paraphernalia.

He also started selling his charts, and developed a brisk business in two of them. One was a large, odd-sized 11×15 inch chart book, one page for each year, from 1885 to the present. Each page charted the Dow Jones Industrial, Transportation and Utilities Averages, Treasury bonds and volume. Each year we produced a new page that customers would buy to add to their book. These pages also briefly described the major financial events of the year, with text inserted alongside the graphs.

When I came onboard four years ago, I updated us to producing the charts using Excel for the graphs rather than hand-drawing, and Adobe In-Design for the layout, rather than literally cutting and pasting in typewritten sentences. I initially panicked when it fell upon me to write those sentences with the financial events of the year, and I searched the internet for year-in-review articles. However I found that I always remembered more of the events than I thought I would, and it became a fun and useful intellectual challenge to create this condensed list. Last year would certainly contain the crash in oil prices …

And then there were the books, hundreds of them. The ones he treasured most were early editions by his heroes, the developers of the Dow Theory, Robert Rhea, William Hamilton and E George Shaeffer. He had dozens of books on other favorite topics: gold and precious metals, the Fed (hatred of), methods for trading stocks, the history of Wall Street. Also many books by Louise Haye and Emmet Fox, emblematic of the spiritual journey of his later years.

Then there were the relics of the legal life of his business – the Articles of Incorporation of Dow Theory Letters, and years of corporate minutes, which he had bound into books.

Then I started reflecting on his different offices. When we moved from New York to California when I was five, he opened an office on 60th St. and El Cajon Blvd. I remember being there one day, which was unusual, and the plan was for me to help out. I was afraid my dad would want me to fold his newsletter into thirds to go into envelopes, which I didn’t think I could do, being all of maybe eight years old. Fortunately he did not expect this of me, and I think I spent the day drawing.

When we moved to La Jolla when I was 11, he got a second story office above a precious metals dealer, where he remained for many years. I don’t know what happened between him and the proprietor, but it must not have been good, as they never did business together, and I never heard him mention him!

Later he moved his office to a small house on Torrey Pines Rd., where both he and I lived for a short time after my parents were divorced. Next he moved the office to Prospect St., next to Morgan Stanley, where he had his accounts. Finally the rent became too high and he moved his office to its last location on Fay Ave. Interesting location since his third wife’s name was Faye.

Concurrent with all of this, and quite fortuitously, I have been reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a profound book by a Japanese woman who obsessively devoted her life, from the age of five, to tidying up – reducing the number of her possessions and organizing them impeccably, so that she could then enjoy the rest of her life in an atmosphere of beauty and tranquility.

Her message is to first vastly reduce the number of your possessions, keeping only those that spark a feeling of joy within you. Then you can easily organize them in a simple manner. Toward the end of the book, she goes on an unexpected tangent. She believes our possessions have spirits of their own, and thinks we should continually thank our clothes, handbags, and the other tools of our lives for their devoted service to us! This is such a beautiful way to look at life, and so completely describes the way I am feeling today. So here goes, starting with the people involved.

Thank you, Dad, for your devoted study of the stock market, and your study of all of life. My dad read for several hours each day – mostly magazines of all types – and I was always envious that he got to do that. But his reading allowed him to write not just about the stock market, but about everything that interested him – psychology, society, politics, the arts, popular culture, fashion, high-end auctions, sexuality – and his multifaceted writing was what kept people subscribing and reading him for decades, and from one generation to the next. I can hardly count the number of emails he received which stated, “I never met Richard, but I felt like he was one of my best friends …;

Thank you, Dad, for writing literally every day of your life, up until about a week before you died, when you went onto hospice and could no longer even move or speak.

Thank you, Dad’s secretaries and office managers, who organized his life so he could devote himself to his writing, who created instruction manuals for the many tasks involved in publishing his letters and charts, and later for posting his writings and charts to his website. Thank you for assembling all the supplies involved in publishing and shipping, which I am feeling so nostalgic in releasing to the universe (in the form of Goodwill!) today.

Thank you to our office – the three humble rooms, but with balconies and fresh air for each room, in which I have spent many a pleasant hour and day.

Thank you, desks – old and worn but solid wood – and the comfortable mesh office chairs that supported my dad and all the ladies who supported his efforts …

Thank you microwave, toaster oven, mini-refrigerator, water cooler, cupboard of teas, paper plates, eating utensils … all of which supported a comfortable daily life for those who had the pleasure of working at Dow Theory Letters for the humane stretch of six hours each day …

Thank you, lateral file cabinets, whole walls of them, matching putty-colored metal, which contained the lifeblood of a business, the records of subscribers, accounting, purchases, marketing, employment records, photographs, and a thousand other things.

Thank you, computers, monitors, printers, in-office servers, for your all-important work as the stewards of the intellectual content of almost 60 years of writing …

Thank you, equipment – the 24-pin dot matrix printer and Pitney Bowes postage machine that allowed office staff to print their own labels and send out their own renewal notices, a task that never ended … thank you adding machine and tape used to calculate the Advance-Decline ratio …

Thank you, binders, of office procedures, subscriber lists, renewal rates, and so much more.

Thank you, custom chart book binders, chart pages, custom shipping boxes, bubble wrap, cardboard mailing tubes for the pages; all the supplies involved in producing and shipping the chart books and chart pages.

Thank you, huge drawers of office supplies – pens, markers, paper clips, rubber bands, batteries, post-its, and countless other things.

Thank you, Goodwill, to which I have taken 18 boxes of documents so far, to be disposed of via your shredding service, also knowing I am helping people to be employed …

Thank you, new tenants to our suite. It worked out that exactly when we were ready to depart (actually a bit before, which has made things challenging) someone finally wanted to sublet our place. Serendipitously, this is a man who was in the stock market business for 25 years, but then he lost a son to addiction, and decided to change course. He went back to school, got a Ph.D. in psychology, and now runs addiction recovery groups. His practice has been growing so that he is ready to relocate from his one-room office on the fifth floor to our three-room suite on the fourth floor.

Perhaps most importantly, thank you for the honor and privilege of running my father’s business for his final four years. I was challenged a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and learned a whole lot. It was all so intense that it seems like a blur.

And lastly thank you to myself, for being willing to jump into something I knew little about, make it my life, support my father, and do the best I could with it. I brought on other writers who complemented my father’s outlook to create a Dow Theory team. The business is still going, and is a tribute to a bold and inquisitive man who wrote honestly and from his heart, whose candid observations on the stock market, the arts and his own life and spiritual journey enriched the lives of thousands of people around the globe for almost 60 years.

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Social Security Saga


Today I had to go to the social security office downtown. The last time I went, ten or twenty years ago, was such a horrific experience that it is permanently etched in my mind. I was carrying a Swiss army knife my dad had given me in my purse, as I always did. I had to go through a metal detector, and was told to get rid of my knife. Of course it wasn’t as if they had a locker or were willing to keep it for me or be helpful in any way whatsoever, so this entailed walking several blocks to my car and then back. I must have said something in a frustrated tone of voice, and the rude and ill-willed employee accused me of threatening her (ridiculous!) and called a security guard to forcibly eject me from the building! So I was not looking forward to my appointment today.

I showed up to the scene of a long line of broken-down looking people in the front. However I was amazed at how nice, positive and helpful all the employees were. The uniformed guard in the front said to each person, “Go to this lovely man at desk ___, and then to window ___” … really going out of his way to create a positive tone. Another uniformed guard who was dealing with a large man babbling crazily the whole time I was there was calm and kind. The woman who took my appointment was helpful. What a change! Are people receiving better training (I think so)? Did the complaint I filed about the woman ten or twenty years ago have an effect (probably not, but perhaps many people filed such complaints). Some accuse Americans of being “superficially nice,” but I sure appreciate it!



My morning with social security. I am taking over the affairs of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my autistic sister, with the social security administration. I had a phone call scheduled at noon with “Susan,” the social security person who is handling our case. So I went to the county courthouse this morning to try to dig up some conservatorship records that are needed to process this case.

I struggled to use the microfilm reader to locate her case records and copy them. Of course not being an attorney, it was difficult for me to sort through 30 pages of legalese records and know which ones to copy. I could not find the page with the judge’s signature, and started to get panicky, worried that I would not get home in time for my phone appointment.

This is a critical matter, since you cannot call social security workers nor can you email them. All you can do is receive calls at prearranged times, go there in person or fax them, and I don’t even have a home fax. Finally I remembered that I had actually passed the social security office in walking the eight blocks from my parking space to the courthouse, so I thought – I will just walk to the office and talk to Susan in person rather than the phone call! Problem solved! Of course a little voice told me that changing a single detail within a rigid bureaucracy might not work …

Meanwhile there was an atmosphere of desperation at the courthouse records department, as I was not the only one there on a social security mission … the lifeline for many people … and it was hard to get much help. As I finally gave up and went to pay for my copies without the judge’s signature, the clerk took pity on me and helped me locate the correct pages. I copied them and walked quickly to the social security office, getting there 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment.

Daria (to uniformed officer): I have a phone appointment at noon, but I won’t be able to get home in time because I was at the county courthouse getting some documents I need for the meeting. So I would like to meet with “Susan” in person instead of over the phone, if you could let her know that I am here.

Officer: We don’t deliver any messages. You’ll have to take a number, sit down, and when they call you to the window, they can let her know.

Daria: How long a wait is it?

Officer: About 40 minutes.

Daria: Then that won’t work! The time for my appointment will have passed!

Officer: Well that’s how we do things. Have a nice day!

I resisted saying, “That’s unlikely, due to you, asshole,” and took off at a run, despite my sprained ankle and the fact that I have not been able to run in months. I sprinted the several blocks to my car, and by the time I got there had exactly eight minutes to get from downtown to Mission Hills. So I took off like a bat outta hell, as my father used to say. I called our roommate and told him, “I’m expecting a really important call. Could you pick up the home phone if it rings, and say, “just a minute, I’ll get her,” and I’ll be home by then.

I got home at 12:01 and Susan did not call until 12:10. I told her about my attempt to meet with her in person, and she said, “You could have just dropped the papers in the express box!” Yeah, as if I knew about the express box or had time. Maybe next time, only I pray there will not be a next time.

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Let ‘er Rip – NOT!


Yesterday I got up and it was sweltering. So I decided to go to the beach and jump in the ocean. I haven’t done that yet this summer, and thought perhaps I could get a parking spot if I went early enough.

So I took off for Ocean Beach at 7:45 am. The parking lot was half empty, which was awesome! As I walked toward the ocean I looked to see if there were flags to indicate the swim zone, but did not see any. I also looked for lifeguards and did not see any of them either. There were many surfers in the ocean all along the shore. So I went in the ocean, which felt pretty cold … as far as I could without getting my hair wet. Then I came out and started walking to my car. But as I reached the sea wall I decided I felt incomplete – I would need to shower anyway, why not get my hair wet?

So I headed back into the ocean. This time it was easy to adjust to the water temperature. As I went out, I felt the ocean pulling at me, strongly – out to sea! Could this be a rip tide? As I felt myself being pulled, I realized my feet could not touch the ocean floor any longer. This was not my plan! Time to get back to shore immediately. But I could still feel the tide pulling, pulling – what incredible power!

I decided – This is the day I become a body surfer! Maybe this was why this happened! I tried to catch every wave going in and let it carry me. I didn’t feel I was making much progress at all, but finally I could feel the ocean floor again. I dug in with my toes and tried to resist that relentlessly current snatching me out to sea.

Finally I was walking in to the shore – still fighting the current – and saw a lifeguard in a jeep on the beach. I was planning to say to her – That was scary! There is a powerful rip tide out there!

But she beat me to it! “If you want to keep swimming, you want to go beyond these jetties, because there’s a powerful rip tide out there today,” she said. “It will pull you all the way out there.”

“No kidding,” I replied. “That was scary!”

“I was coming to get you,” she said. That was a relief. I knew when I was out in the ocean that I would not die, because there were so many surfers. And I knew that to get out of a rip tide, you swim parallel to the shore until you get beyond it. But that would be a lot of swimming. I knew that if I called for help, hopefully one of the surfers would get me in to shore. But the embarrassment of a rescue operation was definitely not something I wanted. So I was grateful to learn that there was a lifeguard, and even more grateful that I had not needed one!

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