I began the day the same way I usually do: drinking coffee while sitting on the front porch under a trumpet-vine-decorated pergola, adjusting my chair’s location to avoid the glare of porch lights, trying to pay attention, saying my prayers, thinking about the difference between meditation and contemplation and whether either exists in a pure form and if just sitting and thinking might have about the same beneficial effect, making my diary entries, and then, against my will, imagining what the world would be like if President Trump began his days like I do, or for that matter, if he ever took a single moment at any time of day to reflect. Trump is not welcome under my trumpet vine. But he’s really bad that way; he’s always intruding into places where he’s not wanted.

As always, at exactly six, lights came on in the garage apartment across the street. It’s behind a house that is said to belong to a woman who is chair of the English Department at the University. I’ve not met her — never even seen her — so I don’t know for sure whether she is or not.

Whatever her role in life, I do know a couple of things about her. Sometimes the lights in her house go on and off in a patterned way in this room and that. I suspect use of a timer. I suppose she does that when she’s away in order to create the impression that she’s not away. It doesn’t seem effective. Any half-way observant burglar would quickly figure out what was going on.

Another thing I know about her is that she gets special treatment from the newspaper delivery person. His/her car stops, and delivery person walks the paper up to the chair’s porch and leaves it by the door. Maybe she gets that treatment because she’s handicapped in some way and getting down to the sidewalk or the yard to collect the paper is too challenging. Or maybe it’s a perk that comes with being the English chair. I hope it’s the latter. In this time of anti-intellectual fervor, it would be something to celebrate if an academic in a not obviously utilitarian field got a little respect. (See what I mean about the President being intrusive? Here I was watching a newspaper get delivered, and suddenly I’m careening into annoyance and concern about the direction he’s taking American culture.)

The delivery car is moving pretty fast by the time it’s in front of my house, and it doesn’t slow. The invisible driver flings the paper toward my house, and almost every time, it lands on the sidewalk between the boxwood hedges. You have to admire such highly developed skill, even when it’s in the service of something of little social value — even negative value, for that matter. Sarah Huckaby Sanders’ flawless delivery of absurd-speak, for example. See? He’s back.

At dawn, a mockingbird in the red oak strikes up an enthusiastic performance of a cheerful but tuneless aria. When it observes a rest now and then, doves’ coos and jays’ shrieks, which have been playing in the background like a continuo, get a moment to shine.

A grackle lights on the tip top of an Italian cypress in the chair’s yard. It’s a towering needle of a tree that rises higher than the third-story roof of the house. As the tree sways in the breeze, the grackle rides it back and forth through the whole arc. He seems to be playing. When the breeze picks up, he has to flap his wings to keep from being thrown off. Somewhere in his grackle being, he silently cries “wheee,” and laughs. Grackle number two waits lower down on the trunk, squawking now and then, probably saying, “I’ve got game.” I’d have better mornings, if I concentrated on birds. When I do that, Trump stays in Mar-a-Lago.

Later in the morning, I set off walking to an appointment with a doctor I hadn’t seen before. Before I got to the end of the block, I was sweating so much I wondered if he would turn me away. But one reason Ann and I wanted to live in this neighborhood was so we could walk to most anywhere we wanted to go, and I was determined to do so, winter or summer. Anyway, showing up sweaty would be a good way to find out what new doc was made of.

A garbage truck rolled up behind me, and the guys working on it made my perspiration seem negligible. They were sodden. After each stop, the truck would lurch forward, engine roaring, to the next stop, and the loaders would run to catch up. They seemed to like what they were doing sort of in the same way the grackles liked playing on the cypress needle.

“Y’all have a hard job,” I yelled at one near me.

He grinned in agreement and heaved another bin.

“You work an eight-hour shift?”

“Yep. This is the busy week, too.”

The truck was rolling and the man hustled off in pursuit. Not a good situation for an interview. I didn’t find out what was peculiar about the week. What followed also needed clarification.

“30,000 pounds,” he said, sucking wind.

Per day? Per week? What? And why were they going so fast? Where was the fun in that on a summer day in Texas?.

“Sure makes a cold beer taste good, doesn’t it?”

He smiled a big yes and kept heaving and trotting.

The whole crew was Hispanic. Citizens, I’m sure, or they wouldn’t be working for the city. Descendants of rapists, murderers, drug dealers, MS13? It’s possible, I suppose, but it’s not something I think about except when the President brings it up. All I see is hard-as-hell working public servants on a hot summer day.

On the way home, I went out of the way to stop at a pharmacy for a super-effective new shingles vaccination that was recommended by new doc (who, by the way, managed to examine me despite my dripping-on-the-floor condition, so I’ll keep him).  I was directed to the pharmacy because Medicare would pay some of the cost at the pharmacy but nothing at the doctor’s office. I didn’t try to make sense of that; I was already fully engaged by the question of why Medicare wouldn’t pay for the annual physical I’d just had. Maybe I’m missing something, but since Medicare is financially challenged, wouldn’t it make sense to spend a relatively small amount on annual exams rather than large/huge amounts to treat undetected illnesses in their late stages?

White-coat man at the pharmacy counter fiddled with his computer and my cards for a while, then informed me that my cost would be $157.70, which to my way of thinking was a substantial amount of money. Looked at in another way, I might have been grateful;  $157.70 was $8.03 less than I would have paid at new doc’s office. I wasn’t sure, however, that it was worth $8.03 to walk even one block extra at noon on a summer day in Texas.

I could have asked at new doc’s office how much I would save before setting out on that perilous journey, thereby enabling an informed medical decision. But they probably wouldn’t have known. And anyway, entering into that discussion would have caused me to think about Big Pharma and medical insurance, and that would have raised my blood pressure, and if I was caught out in that, I probably would have had to buy still another drug. When it comes to medical bills, it’s probably better just to pay (when possible) without thinking too much. Medical care delivery is fundamentally capitalistic, but market forces don’t apply like they do when, say, buying a car.

White-coat guy had taken a long time to come up with the amount due, so I hoped he might have made a mistake. I told him to keep punching keys, and see if he could do better. He worked at it for a while, then grinned and said, “If you pay us cash — skip insurance — the price is $157 even.” A good deal of back and forth followed, I don’t remember the details of it. Oddly, as immune to market forces as medical care is, what I was doing was tantamount to haggling — over the price of a prescription. Never thought I’d ever do that. In the end, I got the price down to $150 and change. And I had found one more reason to be sure I’m in Canada or Europe when I need medical attention.

Another pharmacist came out from behind a high counter, where I hadn’t been able to see her. She carried a syringe, and wore a head scarf, Middle-East style. Her license on the wall gave her name as one that’s typically Lebanese. Hoping to get a conversation going about the good times I’d had in Lebanon in the past, I asked about her name. Not Lebanese – Egyptian. She took her time with the injection, and we talked about all sorts of things. As much as the President wanted me to fear her, I couldn’t. She was lovely —  self-possessed, talkative, cheerful. She reminded me of my granddaughters and of my students years ago at the University of Baghdad. Anyway, she was not half as scary as the American health care system.

“Do you ever encounter any unpleasantness on account of the way you dress?”

“Not in Austin,” she said, smiling.

The implication was clear. There was a good chance that she would be treated unkindly in rural areas. That made little sense to me. If it weren’t for doctors from those countries the President wants to exclude, rural America would have even fewer doctors than it does now.

And so it goes. See what I mean about the President? He’s always butting in where he’s not wanted.



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