After the cool, windy days that signalled the end of our New Mexico summer, September 30, 2013 was a beautiful, sunny, warm autumnal day.
Over breakfast Dee told me about her grade-school days, when she and her family lived deep in the wooded Ozark Mountains of southwestern Missouri. She attended a one-room school, and the teacher, likely recruited from the graduates of a local high school, would arrive early to ready the room, draw water for her thirsty charges from the well, and, in winter, start the wood-fired stove. With no running water there was no flush-toilet, only a couple of outhouses, standing like upended coffins some yards from the main building. One was for the boys, the other for the girls. Dee told me how she had conspired with one of the boys to string a tin-can telephone between the two – and it worked!
I opened up my computer in good spirits. I had just learned that my memoir Wonderment is on the shortlist for the autobiography prize in a regional book contest and was eager to put more energy into my effort to tell the world about its availability. I wrote to my publishers to keep them up to date, adding that the local newspapers of my first ten years had this summer run announcements about the book, fortunately with present-day pictures.
My friend Patrick emailed me with the news that he is considering a venture into science fiction writing, giving me the delicious freedom to hold forth on the possibility, if not the probability, of the existence of life in one of the many layers of the planet Jupiter. Why, they might be intelligent yet diaphanous, wispy creatures communicating in some way that would be inaudible to humans. Start by looking at National Geographic’s weirdly gorgeous gallery of nudibranch photographs, I suggested, and take it from there.
Then along came an email from David, whom I do not know but who claims expertise in promoting books, chiefly through use of the Internet. I had written to him and/or his colleagues just 24 hours before and here were several useful comments that were not simply “generic,” as one would expect from an automatic, word-processed message. They applied to the way I had described the book. I told him his reply had been both surprising and helpful, though I decided later that he had critiqued my detailed synopsis of the book, not the book itself. But his comments were still remarkably germane.
It was nearly dusk when I ventured back into the front garden to attend to some pesky weeds that had bothering me. Crouched there, I was surprised to hear the yap of a small dog. Must be one of those chihuahua crosses from down the road, I thought. When I turned I saw a pleasant couple who had become our new neighbors across the street. When we greeted each other I noticed that Bert was carrying a backpack. Only I could soon tell it wasn’t the usual kind of backpack. It was a carrier for a cat or, as I suspected, a small dog. But no. I stared between the bars and realized with a shock that I was being scrutinized by a large sulfur-crested cockatoo, which I then realized produced the “dog” barks sometimes heard from my neighbors’ patio. When it realized it didn’t know me it let out a series of loud, hoarse screeches that would have easily drowned out any conversation. My friends had little choice but to continue politely home, and I went back to my weeds, thinking what a wonderful world this is.
After darkness fell I drew the curtains and turned on the television. I enjoyed a recording of Foyle’s War, then turned to the news channels. This may have been a mistake. The news was fixated on what seemed a fight to the death between Democrats and Republicans
You will remember that September 30 was the day when Congress voted to “de-fund” Obamacare, the US plan for universal availability of health care. In doing this they also defunded other federal programs, leaving them with no money to operate a fiscal year that started on October 1. An estimated 800,000 federal employees stayed home and folks who planned weekend trips to national parks had to make other plans.
Officially the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare is a US federal statute that became law when signed by President Barack Obama three and a half years ago, on March 23, 2010. Obamacare is a fact of American life and as expected modifications are being made to the complex rules and regulations. The Congressional Budget Office said it would save money in the long run and the Supreme Court ruled that with minor exceptions the law was constitutional. But to some the law is too inherently bad to fix, and for this reason they are trying to do away with it.
Democrats have long favored the idea of giving uninsured Americans access to government-funded medical care when they cannot pay for it out of their own pockets. Republicans have consistently fought against it, with the party’s “Tea Party” faction in the vanguard. On the evening of September 30, the House of Representatives, led by Republicans, agreed that they would not pass the federal budget bill if they had to include health-care reform. The White House refused to play ball, and though the country would have to run for a while without a budget, Obamacare stayed in business. Republicans did not fare well in this protracted exchange.
Congress on September 30, I learned, had been more of a circus than it had been in the preceding weeks, when it seemed legislators had become fractious and irresponsible, even sophomoric. Attempts to reach some sort of compromise appeared only to be bids to drown the existing statute by smothering it with unpopular extraneous verbiage.
On the morning after, the Huffington Post’s Russell Simmons wrote that “It has been painstakingly obvious that there are some members of Congress that are severely threatened by President Obama’s success. No matter what he does, they don’t like it,” Simmons continued. “They are not working for the betterment of the people, they are working for the betterment of themselves, and often times, the betterment of their puppet master’s wallet.” Words well spoken.
For me, since I am not directly dependent on federal funds, October 1 started much like the previous day. It was shadowed by the antics of a dysfunctional Congress, but for the moment government affairs seemed just a dark and dismal spot on the landscape. It would recover, sometime. But thank goodness for sulfur-crested cockatoos, nudibranchs, good weather, fine neighbors, and above all wonderful friends. From now until the debt ceiling crisis peaks in a couple of weeks’ time (or longer) I plan to focus my attention on them. And of course the weeds.