First addiction

The kitchen is dark except for a wedge of light from the refrigerator door.  Since I am 5 years old, only food in the middle shelves is at my eye level, including a block of butter. I take the butter to the kitchen table and put it in the sugar bowl, then stir with one finger until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy.

I eat the cool, frosty confection with one finger, sucking the last off with my tongue.  I place the empty bowl under the faucet in the sink, running hot water over it slowly and silently.  After wiping the bowl dry with a dishtowel, I put it in the cupboard.

I sneak back to bed.

Happy Birthday, Maggie Kuhn

Happy Birthday, Maggie!

August is Maggie Kuhn month.  Maggie founded  the Gray Panthers in 1970 and fought for the rights of elders all her life, even before she became an elder herself. She was affronted by the lack of respect with which the young treated the old.  She once said, “The ultimate indignity is to be given a bedpan by a stranger who calls you by your first name.”

Old age is a time of liberation, Maggie believed.  She said, “It’s the time for the mind and spirit to flourish.  The body may be tired, but you can always reach out to new ideas and new ways of thinking.”

On her 80th birthday, she announced that she intended to make at least one outrageous statement a week.  In her late 80’s, she changed it to one a day.  “You get people’s attention that way, she said.  “You get energized, you can make an impact, and it’s just fun.”

Although she never married, Maggie always enjoyed the company of men.  She believed in an active, guilt-free sex life.  At the age of 75, she was still having romantic affairs, generally with younger men.

Maggie stood up for herself, other elders, and disenfranchised people in general without seeming to flinch.  She once admitted that it wasn’t always easy, though.  She counseled others to “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes.”

Maggie Kuhn died peacefully at her home in Philadelphia at age 89.

Life Without TV

The other night, a 10-year-old friend told me her class is celebrating No TV Week. When I went to the internet to find out more about this wonderful idea, I learned that TV-Turnoff Network, a nonprofit organization, began promoting No TV Week back in 1995. This grass roots project, started in protest of the mind-numbing shows that dominate American television, encourages families to unplug their sets for a week each year, designated No TV Week. This year it’s April 24-30.

I am definitely in the groove then, though quite by accident. Last week, when I tried to watch Judge Joe Brown, my TV was snowy and without picture or sound. A temporary cable outage, I figured. After the problem failed to clear up, I wondered whether my yard helper had severed the cable. I called Cox Cable in the morning.

One of Cox’s customer service ladies informed me my service had been disconnected. It seems my bill was over 90 days overdue. How could this be? In over 50 years of bill paying, I’ve never had anything disconnected for nonpayment!

Paying the bill online was confusing and frustrating—all the excuse I needed to put it off. Like most other companies in the digital age, Cox prefers online payment. The subject line of their billing e-mail always said “Bill ready to view.” I thought this meant I could pay if I wanted, but there was no hurry. I received lots of other e-mail from them, as well—usually promotions of some kind.

I’m sorry, but I’m like a kid who stops listening to her mom when she talks too much. My reception shuts down. If all you want me to do is view your bill, say, “Bill ready to view.” But if you want me to pay it, you’d better say “Payment due.” If you’re about to cut off the TV, you need to say “Cable service to be disconnected.” I figured Cox Cable would let me know when things got serious. “Bill ready to view” didn’t cut it.

Unfortunately, the Cox lady wasn’t interested in my suggestions for improving customer communications. She kept harping on my 90-day-overdue bill. I could almost see her with her hands on her hips and her lips pursed in disapproval. Because I was so naughty, it seemed, I must fork over a forty-dollar reconnect fee and pay for service in advance to enjoy future TV privileges.

There was no way I was going to slink off like a chastened child. I said I guessed it was time to look into satellite TV—something I’d been thinking about for awhile anyway.

This set her off again, as she warned me about the risks of signing up for satellite service those crooks who put lots of fine print in their service contracts and then bilk naive consumers. “Gosh,” I said, “thanks for sharing. Maybe I’ll just give up TV for awhile. It’s not like it’s raising my IQ or anything.”

So I’m going cold turkey. Do I miss Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Seinfeld, or Cops? Not much. TV mostly filled the blank spaces in my life, serving much the same purpose as tabloid magazines, chocolate bars, and impulse shopping. Not deadly, but not very healthy, either.

Quitting TV reminds me of times past when I’ve had to go without a wristwatch for a few weeks. I felt a bit lost at first. I was so habituated to checking the time that I relied on it to direct my life. (“It’s six PM. I must be hungry.”) After awhile, being without a timepiece was freeing. I’d realize that I’d become a slave to clock time without knowing it.

As the days go by and my TV screen remains gray, it’s not the money I save that pleases me. It’s the freedom I’ve reclaimed