Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

You Need Your Knees

You take a lot for granted about your body when everything is working as it should. You forget that the whole is the sum of its parts. When a part isn't doing what it should it just might bring the machine to a halt.

My left knee just about brought this old contrapion called me to a stop. I wrote about the pain a week ago, so consider this a progress report.

Knees are ugly things, at least on me they are. They are bumpy and scared, and of course a popular gathering place for my psoriasis. I don't really have to look at them all that much. They are down there someplace kind of in a blind spot. I barely consider them, except on those occasions with Mr. Arthur Itis comes by to visit those joints. But as I last reported his cousin Mr. Bur S. Itis moved in this month, lock stock, balloon  and red-hot poker.

There's what he looked like back on the 23rd in the right photo.

He blew up enough to take out some of the wrinkles, but who cares if their knees are smooth? Fact was it hurt like blazes and I couldn't bend my leg, not a wit, not an inch.

It is a real inconvenience when the knee won't bend, especially with the pain. I couldn't easily get in the car. I had to push my self up high and half over the passenger seat to slide that left foot up and in. Once I got the leg and foot in the car it was agony driving even short distances because I couldn't stretch it straight out and that little bend I forced upon it keep burning at me all the way.

Getting dressed was another interesting maneuver. You can't bend the thing and you can't hardly lift your foot without Mr. Bur S. Itis shooting a dart down your shin. I had to devise a way to manage.

I would have to hold my underwear so the leg hole was an open target. Lift my left leg a inch while gritting my teeth and then wave the shorts back and forth until I lassoed the toes. After that I gently tugged them over the foot and then slipped in the right foot, because that leg I could bend and pulled them up. Somewhat the same with trousers, except they were too long and bulky to wave at my toes. I would place  the left side of them pretty much down on the floor, then ease my foot up on them hoping to get into the top of the leg. Now again an easing up inch by inch until my foot peeked through the other side. Then dip down the right side and slip in the right foot and pull into place.

I would put my right shoe on first. I would place my left shoe on the floor and again force my left leg and foot off the found and over the back into the opening. After than I just had to press until my foot was inside, which usually broke down the back of my shoe under my heel. It wasn't easy getting that leather out and back where it should be either. A lot of pushing with my other foot.

Of course for the first week I couldn't tie that shoe. My wife had to do it for me. "Thank you, mommy. Someday I'll learn to do it myself!"

Now I didn't mention something else. Something goes on between the pants and the shoe called a sock. I figured out how to get the pants on Larry and the shoe over my toes, but I found no way to get the sock on. Again, I had to ask my wife to do it.

So I was dressed with no where to go, because I couldn't blasted walk. I was more or less a paperweight for a week. Then it began to improve a bit. I could bend it a teeny tiny bit.

Here is how I measured progress. "Mommy, mommy, I tied my shoe all by myself today!" Yes, it bent just enough I could lean over while standing up, just grasp my shoelace ends and by gritting my teeth manage a reasonable bow knot. I still couldn't get my sock anywhere near my toes though. I was still dragging myself into the car and trying to hide the pain of driving. I still couldn't sleep but in one position at night, assuming I could get to sleep at all.

But a couple days ago the pain easied and the knee bent a little more. I could actually change how I lay at night and sleep. It was getting easier to dress and to get in the car. Then another day and a bit more bend and bit less swelling. Now I had almost no pain, unless I forgot myself and bent my leg too far. It wasn't too far to too far, either.

I felt my leg was about 85% back to normal. I felt no discomfort now driving, although I still had to be careful getting into a vehicle. And then I actually managed to put my sock on myself. It wasn't all that easy, but I can do it.

I still couldn't cross my legs, but I was walking almost like a human being again.

Now today both my knees are looking more like their good old wrinkled up ugly selves. This morning they almost look like twins, although you can still see a little swelling in the left.

However, I can't catch a break. I woke up at two o'clock this morning from pain. It wasn't my left knee.

It seems Mr. Arthur Itis took up residence in the apartment below. My ankle is killing me and I'm back to an old man's shuffle.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Like a kind of Sanctuary

I was baptized as a baby in the Grove Methodist Episcopal Church, but I never attended any services there. When I was a preschooler, my mother took me to St. James Episcopalian Church on East Lancaster Avenue in Downingtown one Easter. We didn't attend any service there either from what I remember. She took me there for the Easter Egg hunt and rides in a pony cart.

Sometime about third grade my folks made me go to Sunday School at the Downingtown Methodist Church on Creek Road. They must have figured I was old enough to walk the length of our street to attend, but they sure didn't go to church. I think they might have shown up on Easter and Christmas, maybe. They did come one Sunday when I played a tree in some kind of pageant.

I didn't much cotton to going myself, but I wasn't asked.

The place I came to accept as my church, or my sanctuary, was the building pictured. This was the Downingtown Public Library and it contained magic. It held books, lots and lots of books.

It was and is a lovely building, still there and still a library as far as I know. It sat directly across from the home of one of my best friends, Staurt Meisel. It was built of stone over which ivy crawled from the yard to the roof. Fronting the yard was a stone wall. I use to walk atop this wall and feel so daring, it seemed high and dangerous. When I went back as an adult I was embarrassed to think its two foot high cliffs frightened me.

The building has a history. it was built to house Dr. William A. Todd and his new wife, Ann Downing. It was constructed in 1800 and served as both Dr. Todd's home and office.
In 1839 the house became the Mary B. Thomas Boarding School. Its use changed again by the early 1900s when the Women's Club of Downingtown made it their clubhouse, but in 1917 the Women's Club had to turn it over to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross utilized the facilities during the remainder of World War I to make surgical bandages for the troops. Eventually after the end of the war it became the Library.

The stacks were downstairs. I do not know what was upstairs, I was never up those steps. The Children's Library was the room to your right as you entered. The Librarian sat in the large room on the left behind a large desk just a few feet inside the door. Shelves surrounded her floor to ceiling. To her left was a deeper section full of rack after rack. It was darker back in that area.

When I first took out a Member Card I was not quite ten years old. I was related to the Children's Library. The big room was off-limits. The librarian was an older woman. I remember her as frail in appearance and something of the stereotype of the spinster librarian. She was strict and scared me a little. Still, I came often and took the limit of books out at a time and read them all within the week. I think I read all the Hardy Boys, several books about animals, both short stories and novels, a whole series of science fiction and all of Robert Louis Stevenson's best know works except one.

Oh, how I wanted to read that forbidden work as well as more Edgar Allan Poe.

About the time I went from Grade School to Junior High the librarian either retired or died. She was replaced by a young woman and that young woman opened up the world to me. She was so nice. I had read my way through the Children's Library, or as much of it as I cared to. I was not yet old enough, but one night she agreed to allow me to borrow books but the big room. Oddly enough, Stevenson's book was not the first I withdrew from the Big Room. The first book I read out of the Downingtown Adult Library Room was a play in verse by Edmond Rostand called Cyrano de Bergerac. I guess I was a weird kid.

After I read that I got my Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde at long last.

I spent many an evening at the library and since I was often the only one who came in, the Librarian and I began having conversations. I told her I had decided to be a writer and she asked to see some of what I wrote. She made comments and she allowed me to use the library typewriter to tap out my stories and poems in a more "professional" manner.

If I was engaged to reading books before I ever walked in the doors of the Downingtown Public Library, I was married to books ever after. I am also eternally grateful to that young Librarian for mentoring this poor skinny lad when no one else cared a wit about his peculiar idea of being a writer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pain

Life in recent times is a four-letter word spelled P-A-I-N. This is the cost of carrying this body none to gently through the years. Age has a way of reminding me that the smooth and sturdy container I gave no concern to in youth is now dinged and dented, wrinkled and wrecked.

In my younger days I was a fast runner, but you can't outrun age. Your sprints and dashes gradually become rapid walks and then you find that four miles an hour pace has slipped by a mile. All those old slowpokes you use to breeze pass on the trails are now going by you. You don't outrace that old geezer with the scythe. He was out of sight and out of mind once upon a time, but now I can catch a glimpse of him over my shoulder.

I suppose at this point I should put up that warning that this blog may contain images some would find disturbing.

I am referring to my knees.

Old Man Time doesn't like knees and elbows. He really warps the skin on those body parts. I have seen elephants with smoother skin than what my kneecaps have become.

In fact, I use to have nice looking legs and as these first pictures from the past summer attest, not so long ago I still had human-looking limbs, but this week not so much. Now admittedly arthritis has played a role in rearranging my landscape. My fingers have developed a curve and I can no longer completely close my hands into a fist. My feet have especially suffered the slings and arrows of uric acid overindulging in their joints like some mean drunk always spoiling for a fight. There are days few and far between I wake up pain free. Mostly it is a twinge in a toe or a stinging about the ankle that is barely noticeable in the daily activity of my life. Sometimes it is a flare-up of angry bees with red-hot fireplace pokers for stingers doing battle here or there. Never have these bouts prevented me from working and very seldom deterred me from my daily walk through the forest, even though such pain never rests, even when you do, and it bites you when touched, latching on like a Pit Bull having roid rage. I have a high pain threshold. I can deal with Mr. Arthritic Pit Bull.

But that Old Man Time hit me low this week. I was thinking perhaps tendonitis, but it looks more and more to me like bursitis, his second cousin. I've had a couple bursitis attacks on my elbows. I was a bit self-conscious about my big freak elbow, but after a couple weeks it went back to normal. It didn't much bother me unless I leaned on my arm or brushed against something. This knee thing is a  bit more obtrusive.  I was wondering if I could get on some weirdo TV show and make a few bucks by claiming I had a grapefruit implanted in my knee.

My daughter and I visited the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia last week, maybe I picked it up there. My knee certainly looks like an exhibit you'd find in that place. Over in this display we have a man with balloon leg! Admittedly my right kneecap ain't no beauty contest winner either, but at least it has some shape to it. My legs look like the before and after pictures of a participant on The Biggest Loser. Besides the pain, I really can't bend the blasted thing. You should see me try to put my pants on (well, maybe you shouldn't) or my shoe and sock. I haven't even been able to tie my own left shoe, although I did manage to do just that this morning. I felt the same sense of accomplishment as I did as a toddler first mastering such a feat. Oh, Larry tied his shoe all by himself, he gets a gold star!

I am doing all one can for such an inflation, keeping off my feet, resting, popping Ibuprofen and getting a healthily understanding why some people get hooked on pain pills. I did notice in this last picture I took this morning that the swelling has decreased ever so slightly. Hopefully in another week I can snap a portrait of matching kneecaps.

It does have me wondering how my dad stands it. I am going stir crazy because I can't do much physically around the house. It is a major task getting in and out of the car. I have to put in my right leg, then push this hulk of body up almost over into the passenger side to drag my left foot into place. But at least I am hobbling about. I took out the trash, took the barrel down to the curve yesterday. I can feed the cats and feed the birds and fetch the newspaper. I also have my writing, which I can sit at the computer to type and it is my lifetime love. Yet my dad can't do anything. He can't go out and get the paper or the mail. He was a long distance trucker until he was 75, then a school bus driver into his late eighties. Driving was his love and passion, but he isn't allow to do that anymore. It pains my knee to drive, but I can do it.

Old Man Time is a mean son of a goat!










Friday, January 6, 2012

Anger at How They Pick Your Pockets

Now where were we? Ah yes, the Little Woman had accidentally overdraw one of our bank accounts resulting in a $37 dollar fee of 131% on $28.

(To understand how this happened go to my previous post, "Anger from One Year to the Next".)

We do not keep much money in this particular account. There is a large deposit on the First of each month (more about that to come) and by the last week of the month little remains. It's a special purpose account. So there was only $8 remaining when my wife pulled out the wrong debit card to pay a $36 purchase (prescriptions),

I asked a question. Why did the bank allow this overdraft to happen?

Obviously when the card was swiped the computer noted there were insufficient funds and one would expect the transaction to be denied. Isn't that what you have always been told about a debit card? You had to have money in your account for it to be used?

One of the dirty little secrets, among many, is the banks encourage overdrafts. This is one of their most profitable services. This is not what they tell you, of course.

They will give you three reasons to justify this usury interest rate, the overdraft fee.

1.  They don't want you to be inconvenienced by rejecting a transaction over such a low sum. Thus, you are paying for not being embarrassed by public rejection. They are doing it for you!

2.  Overdrafts cost the bank a lot of money.

3.  They impose the fee to encourage customers to be more financially responsible.

They leave out the fourth and most important reason: it's easy and lucrative revenue for the bank. The other three reasons are basically bogus. Only Reason Number 2 has any iota to truth to it, but even that is distorted from reality and should not be considered a valid reason for these high fees.


What kinds of overdrafts do we have? We have accidental ones, such as my wife using the wrong bank card or someone thinks they have a higher balance than they have. It is difficult in these times to sometimes know your balance if you have a joint account. You take some cash from an ATM and mean time your joint partner is buying a new pair of shoes unaware of your withdrawal and voila, accidental overdraft.

We have the knowing overdraft for an emergency situation. This is where the person knows they don't have enough in the account to cover a transaction, but are willing to absorb a fee for a perceived necessity. "If I don't take twenty dollars out of the bank today, my children will have nothing to eat tonight." The person knows money will be in the account in a day or so to cover both what they took out and the greedy fee.

These are overdrafts made by basically honest persons who are good customers of the bank. The bank knows they will get that money back and their fee. If the bank thought otherwise, these people would NOT have been able to overdraw.

That's another of the dirty little secrets, you are coded.  As a new customer you may be coded 1 and this tells the system to allow up to a $50 overdraft. This will change over time as you build a reputation and profile with the bank. Each code will bring a higher allowance of overdraft, maybe as much as $200, maybe more if you are wealthy. (I know of cases of wealthy people having no limits and even when they overdrew their account by thousands of dollars paid no fees. You will find in most situations if you are rich enough to afford the fees, you never are charged any.) Naturally, if you become known as a risk or have a very minimal average balance, you may be coded down to a zero and no overdraft allowed.

So there goes Reason Number 3, because if they really wanted to encourage you to be financially responsible, they wouldn't allow you to overdraw at all. But then they wouldn't be able to charge you a fat fee and make money.

And let's forget Reason Number 1, that's just PR. They couldn't care less about you being embarrassed. It's a convenience all right; a convenient way for them to make more money.

What about Reason Number 2, overdrafts cost the bank? It may cost them interest on money borrowed overnight at the Fed Fund Rate of interest. The current Fed Fund Rate is .25%. That is the annualized rate. Banks generally borrow overnight, just as we basically borrowed $28 overnight. So the bank paid a use fee of .000007% (rounded up) for a total cost of $0.00019. We paid a use fee of $37 at a rate of 48,180% annualized. See how they turned a microscopic lost into a big fat profit?

"How about processing costs caused by an overdraft?" you ask.

First of all, there is no direct cost caused by the overdraft, except that minuscule interest rate.  The bigger extra cost was having an OverDraft Unit to prepare those notices mailed to the miscreants and the postage to send it. I don't know how big those units are these days. Most of the notice preparation and mailing is probably pretty much automated by now. The costs are a nanosecond of computer time, a bit of paper and postage; and the postage is probably the highest expense. Does this add up to anywhere near $37? I rather think not. Maybe a buck-thirty-seven.

However, there is a legitimate cost from overdrafts of a higher nature. This doesn't come because of those accidental overdrafts or the deliberate emergency of the moment ones. No, there is a third kind of overdraft, theft.

Yeah, there are people who overdraw an account with no intension of ever making it good. They not only aren't going to make a deposit to cover the overdraft, they aren't going to pay the fee either. Now some of these thieves know how to milk the system for all its worth. (They would probably make valuable advisers working for the bank actually. They think alike when it comes to maximizing undeserved profit.) They will make overdrafts here, there and everywhere in a short period of time before the previous overdrafts are noted and their withdrawing spree ended.  With the speed of today's systems, though, the banks have probably cut down on this.

But these thieves have nothing to do with our little miscues and small overdrafts. Those people are not going to be encouraged to be more financially responsible. And they can cost the bank a hunk of change, but you and I shouldn't be punished for this. Higher overdraft fees won't stop these crooks.

I am not against the banks charging a reasonable fee for an overdraft. We are using their funds in what could be called a small, temporary loan. When I initially began in banking (40 plus years ago) such fees were kind of reasonable. Our overdraft fee was $10. If you were over from one cent to $9.99 you were not charged. We did not charge anything if under the fee amount. From $10 to $19.99 you were charged half the fee, $5.00 and $20 or above you paid the full fee. Given the minimal cost to banks when the average depositor overdraws this would still seem a reasonably excessive profit for the bank.

However, I would be inclined to say they should be restricted to charging the same rate as their small personal loans on overdrafts. I see that rate  is somewhere around 15% currently. That would mean for my wife's little one day loan of $28, I would have paid a fee of one and one-tenth cent. Bank still made a profit, and if the overdraft remained another day, then another one and one-tenth cent. Okay, I can be reasonable. Let them charge a minimum fee, but no more than $12. $12 would be equivalent to a small personal loan of $1,000 for a month (31 days) at 15% annual interest. They still make a huge profit.

But banks shouldn't be living off the backs of honest people making small overdrafts, because every time they want to raise their bottom line, they raise the overdraft fee while they continue to encourage this behavior. As I stated earlier, if they truly wished to stop this behavior, they would allow no overdraft, which they do with some riskier people, so it is possible.

But that overdraft fee, despite how it sounds, was not the true source of my anger. My anger came from that combined with the same bank depositing my pension late. This is why I have an account there to begin with, my monthly pension payment is deposited there and then I have specific payments dedicated to that account monthly, which is why it shrinks almost to nothing by month end just before another infusion of my pension.

My pension check is due on the first of every month. Now usually if the first falls on a weekend, they deposit it on the Friday before. However, the first of January fell on both a Sunday and a holiday and the holiday extended through Monday and they didn't deposit my pension until Tuesday. I guess because I get a yearly pension they have to keep that amount isolated to each calendar year, but still, make it on the due date. If I am late paying something on the due date, I get charged a late fee, usually as outrageous as the overdraft fee. Not having my pension on the First caused me untold worry and aggregation and inconvenience. I am not a well-off guy, I depend on deposits being there when they should be. Not being there could cause me to make a late payment on something and incur more bloated fees.

There is no reason why it could not have been done automatically on a Sunday. They would have put a charge to my account on Sunday if I incurred one. They cancelled an automatic payment I had setup for the Second, even though that was a holiday, so why not make my deposit.

What I should do is bill the bank a $37 late fee. Fair is fair.









Thursday, January 5, 2012

Anger From One Year to the Next

I am not a person easily angered. It usually takes a lot. Nor do I stay angry long. On those occasions in my life when I have reached a boiling point I usually let off steam by throwing something, generally what is in easy reach. I don't throw it at anyone. I just throw it. My anger goes away then like a cold when the fever breaks. I throw it, I feel better immediately and I fairly quickly cool down.

Then I feel bad because I probably broke something of mine I didn't want to break.

These instances occur, thankfully, very, very infrequently.

It's also something those knowing we well are happy about. They know my anger is rare, comes quickly and goes away just as quick. I am not someone whose anger will seethe and continue for hours or days. So this is probably the exception that proves the rule.

I became angered prior to New Year's Eve and it has not gone away. I am still angry. Perhaps it is because I didn't throw anything and it is too late for that now. And I am not angry at one thing, either, but several things.

The first thing that angered me was my wife overdrew our account at one bank. No, I wasn't angry at my wife. I was upset because I figured we'd get charged a fee and I was unhappy because we haven't had an overdraft on our accounts for at least a decade. But I wasn't angry at anyone or anything yet.

My wife went to have her prescriptions filled and she used the wrong card in paying. It had been an honest mistake. We have accounts at two banks. Unfortunately the debit cards of both are green and look similar. She thought she was using the bank card of the account we had money in. It wasn't and this resulted in a $28 overdraft.

I check my accounts online regularly. I was shocked to see an overdrawn account. I did not see any fee charged yet, however, and I went immediately to that bank and deposited $40 dollars. My receipt then showed us having a positive balance, not much, but positive nonetheless.

Thus the next morning I am doubly surprised when I check my account and see it overdrawn $25. Why am I doubly surprised? Not so much by the fact this was caused by the charging of an overdraft fee as the fact my pension check was not deposited as expected. This is when my anger began.

Definition of Usury: the illegal action or practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest.


It would seem that an interest rate of 132% for a one day "loan" is a high rate of interest. Of course there is that phrase in the definition: "the illegal action or practice". Certainly 132% is a high rate, but is it actually legal?


Definition of a Loan Shark: A person or entity that charges borrowers interest above an established legal rate. Depending on where a person lives, lenders typically cannot charge more than 60% interest per annum. A loan shark, then, would be someone who illegally charged interest over the state's legal limit, which could range up to, or even over, 100%.


So, 132% is more than 60%, but the definition says per annum. This 132% I was charged was daily, actually less than a full 24 hours before I deposited the $40. That is an annual rate of 48,180%, which would make any loan shark drool with envy.


Now I know it would not become 48,180%. If I didn't deposit to my account for two days or a week or a month, it would remain at 132% If I waited a year, although they would probably have closed my account by then, it would still be 131%, but still a lot more than 60% per annum!


Do I think this is fair and right? No, but I will explain why in my next post. I'll give you a partial reason, why did the bank allow her to overdraw? Why didn't they reject the purchase? I'll tell you next time.




Meanwhile, I leave you with this:





What’s the difference between Congressmen and manure?


With manure you can spread it across a field and it will yield worthwhile crops.
While congressmen are full of it, all they produce is crap.


(The photograph of Congress in session taken by the author, 2011.)