2019: A Reader’s Digest

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If you’re taking the time to read this, I’d like to commend you. While 2019 was a year of many events— on the local, national and international levels— there’s one activity that didn’t rank too highly in our collective lives this year. Reading. You know, the process by which the brain computes letters into words that eventually become ideas that we can think about inside our brains?

Frankly, it’s not surprising that no one reads anymore. Given our online world, if something can’t be shared in a meme, a 30 second video, or a 140-character Tweet, we are not interested. We’ve conditioned ourselves to only digest information in small amounts— like penguins regurgitating fish guts to baby chicks. So, to that end, I’ll try to keep this year-end summary brief.

On the international front, once again it was a great year for dictatorships. Vladimir Putin expanded his sphere of influence in Syria, Turkey and Ukraine, bringing Russia into a golden era of power not seen since Comrade Stalin gobbled up Eastern Europe like PAC-Man.

But, the real power-player of the year was Xi Jinping of China. After previously declaring himself the Wizard of Middle Earth, Jinping contained a huge public protest in Hong Kong, all while secretly detaining over a million people from ethnic minority groups into concentration camps— which the Chinese government lovingly call “Education Centers for Naughty Hobbits.” It’s very important, though, that no one talk or write about any of these events in Middle Earth because no one wants to pay more than $5 for a bottle of aspirin.

Science made a lot of discoveries in 2019. Astronomers released the first-ever photograph of a massive black hole captured by an intricate system of telescopes. Black holes are described as having gravitational forces so intense that nothing can escape— including light, atomic particles and Lori Loughlin’s career.

In New Zealand, biologists discovered ancient fossils from an unknown species of giant parrot that could grow to be three feet tall. That’s a really big bird. I bet it’d be a challenge to find a cage large enough for a parrot that is the size of a human toddler.

But, hey, maybe US Immigration could part with a few of theirs?

On the domestic front, the news-cycle has been dominated by tweets written by President Donald Trump at 3 o’clock in the morning. These tweets are widely shared because, as we established earlier, 140-characters is the maximum amount that most Americans can read at one time. This short-attention span has been very beneficial to the president because when Robert Mueller’s long-awaited 448-page report was finally released in April, no one actually read it.

In Hollywood, movie adaptations of the Avengers, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel all raked in the most cash at the box office. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either Americans can’t be bothered to read books made of cartoon drawings, or we’re desperate for a hero to save the world from certain doom.

In political news, we began 2019 with 25 Democratic candidates running for president. In the months since, an additional 379 people have joined the race. This includes a surprising number of billionaires— like Mike Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck. The candidates all claim to be able to beat Donald Trump, but their platforms and ideas exceed 140-characters, so I fear their chances of holding onto an audience are pretty slim.

Meanwhile, Congress has been awash with hearings of all kinds— hearings on presidential impeachment, hearings about executive abuses of power, and hearings about whether using the Oxford Comma would be seen as too socialist. No one knows how it will all turn out, but it still remains that less than 20% of Americans can find Ukraine on a map.

Back here at home, California is still no closer to building the high-speed train that was begun during the Millard Fillmore administration. Budget and cost overruns have plagued the high-speed rail process. Yet, at the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom’s pearly white smile remains suspiciously well-maintained. I don’t know if these two things are related, but I once bought Crest tooth whitening strips at Target and they cost more than the pair of pants I’m currently wearing.

In Patterson, it’s been an eventful year, too. As the revitalized Patterson Family Pharmacy is constructed, several new establishments have opened, as well— including a Starbucks and a Round Table Pizza. The latter establishment unfortunately joins the 692 other places that sell pizza in town. But, the new Round Table does distinguish itself by giving customers cool space-age wristbands. After these high-tech wristbands precisely dispense beer into cups, customers have the option of getting beamed onto the Starship Enterprise.

As 2019 comes to a close, we have much for which to be thankful. We can be thankful for our family, our friends and our great community. Lastly, we can also rejoice that we won’t often need to use those reading glasses we bought at Walgreens.

After all, it’s pretty easy to squint or trombone-through something that’s 140-characters, or less.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2020.

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Muddy Habits

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As the old saying goes, “Some habits are hard to break.” I tend to think that all habits are hard to break— otherwise we wouldn’t call them habits. They’d just be things-we-do-sometimes. Or stuff-we-do-without-thinking-about-it. Or, if you’re President of the United States, it would be called Tweeting-At-3am.

I have many habits; in fact, my life is awash in routine. I find it calming to live life this way. To use another cliché, I am not the kind of person to “fly by the seat of my pants.” In fact, this would be a physical impossibility since the seat of my pants is firmly affixed to my wheelchair. Unless Superman swoops down from the heavens, I’m not flying anywhere. This is not to say that I would object to this concept, though. I wouldn’t— because Clark Kent is hot.

Not all my habits are as healthy or as useful. For example, when I get anxious, I pick at my fingernails. As a kid, I used to bite my fingernails, but when I learned how many germs lurk underneath, I was totally cured of that practice. So, now I pick at them, instead. It is still somewhat gross, but less disgusting. At least that is what I tell myself.

We all have habits, like these, that we shouldn’t do. Given the heaps of rain we’ve had this year in Patterson, I know one thing that no one should be foolish enough to try— and that’s driving a vehicle into, or through, the mud.

Our agricultural land is rich— and heavy. The nutrients and clay make the ground in the Patterson area some of the best soil in the world. But, this heaviness means that if the soil gets saturated, or even slightly wet, it will sink anything that tries to drive through it.

So, please, don’t do it. I’ve seen cars, trucks, vans, tractors, school buses, and most recently, a USPS mail truck, get stuck in Patterson’s mud. It took three men to free the poor, bedraggled mail truck from the sloppy mess.

Take a wrong turn? Decide to try to turn around off the side of a country road? Think again. You better hope you find a friendly farmer or a dude with a huge truck to pull your dumb self out of the mud.

If, by sheer luck, you manage to not get fully stuck, you will make such a mess getting out of the mud that the resulting crater will be seen from space. Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station will be too busy laughing at you to help rig any more elections.

I’ll make you a deal. If you promise to not drive in the mud, I will try to stop picking my nails. While I can’t make any guarantees, I’ll do my best.

Maybe these habits won’t be that hard to break, after all.