Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Retirement Life in Our Little Town

Hi Bill

Today I decided to give you a taste of daily life in retirement in our little town. The following is a slightly-enhanced version of last Friday’s entry from my daily journal:

5/23/2015 – Friday

I got up at 9am (as usual) this morning after going to bed at 1:30am. I put the dogs out for potty at about 9:30am. Then I ate some Mini Wheats with Silk Almond Coconut milk, a half banana and part of a Special K Protein Bar (10g of protein per bar) in the family room with the dogs.

Music: I remained in the family room where I listened to disc one of The Beatles (White Album) on vinyl. I rated each song on that disc and also recorded it (MP3 recording) while listening. I did not have time to listen to the second disc this morning and I plan to do that tomorrow. I also plan to write my comments about that album tomorrow and to post the album on my Daily Music board on Pinterest and Facebook on Sunday. I have always liked The White Album very much and still enjoyed what I heard this morning, although there are a few truly bad, junk tracks on it.

Then I (and the dogs) went upstairs and said good morning to Pat who usually sleeps an hour or so later than I do.

Lenny’s Perch: Lenny, our alpha Shih Tzu, loves gazing out the front window of our living room and barking at anything that moves or looks unusual. Every day, we place a large foot stool under the window so he can lay on it and keep tabs on the neighborhood. He also occasionally shares that stool with his brother Squiggy or his sister Zuzu (Chihuahua), who are happy to join him in “bark fests”. The barking is often quite annoying, but that’s what dogs do.

I watched some CNN (to which I am addicted and should seek help for) while Pat had some breakfast.

Walk: It was very warm and sunny today with little wind. Therefore we decided to take the dogs for a walk. Unfortunately, there were too many of those golfers on the golf course today, so we walked along the north edge of the 4th fairway to Par Lane and then to the end of the street and back. That walk is about a mile which is good for the little short-legged canines and for us aging bipeds.

I made myself a sandwich for lunch and Pat had lunch shortly after I finished.

Pat and I watched the Midday News on KELO at about 12:45pm. We always record it on the DVR, as we do for almost every show or sporting event that we watch. It’s great to watch TV shows when we want (not when they air) and to speed through those commercial breaks.

Walmart: This afternoon, Pat gave me a grocery list and I decided to drive to the Walmart on the north side of Sioux Falls instead of shopping here in our little town. We have a very nice supermarket in town and we certainly buy there, but I felt like shopping exotic today. Surprisingly, the Walmart was not very crowed this afternoon. I was able to find almost everything on Pat’s list and I also got in a lot more walking at Walmart, which is a good thing. The attractive woman at the register at Walmart was pleasant and talkative. At one point she looked at me and said: “Wow, you folks must really love your apples!” My reply was “They are a little pricy and I’d be fine eating less expensive apples, but my wife really likes Honey Crisp apples so that’s what we buy.” Then she made me use the chip reader instead of the strip reader when I paid with my credit card. Of course, I couldn’t seem to get the credit card into the chip reader correctly and she had to come out from behind her counter to help me. She also gave me a very sympathetic look while helping. Anyway, I enjoyed another Walmart sortie today.

Interstate Traffic: I was surprised by the heavy traffic on I-29 in (and out of) Sioux Falls today. Then I realized that it is the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend. Duh! Nothin’ gets by Clark!

While I was at Walmart, Pat went to pick up some things at Lewis Drug (pharmacy) in our little town. Then she went to the quilt shop in town for some fabric to make more headscarves, which Pat and Rayna sell in some shops in Sioux Falls. I got home from Sioux Falls before she got back from the quilt shop, which was really no surprise. 

Later this afternoon Pat and I watched an episode of Property Brothers, which we had previously recorded from HGTV. We are both addicted to several HGTV shows including Property Brothers, Love It Or List It and Fixer Upper.

Nap: I took a 45-minute nap, which I seem to need in the late afternoons.

News: Pat and I watched the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelly this evening. We always watched the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in the past, but we switched to CBS after Williams' unfortunate self-promoting exaggerations of his battle field experiences. Aside from all of the tragic news stories today, CBS presented a feel-good story about an 11-year-old boy, Tanishq Abraham, who recently graduated from American River College in California with three associates' degrees (math and physical sciences, general science, foreign language studies). I told Pat that I couldn’t even be sure to get my pants on properly when I was 11 years old! 

Dishes: I put the dishes in the dishwasher after supper. That’s one of my daily contributions to the domesticity – wait maybe that’s my only daily contribution to domesticity. 

Sports – Pirates Baseball: After supper, Pat and I watched the first five innings of the Pirates/Mets game in Pittsburgh on the TV in the living room. The Pirates were leading 2-1 at the end of the 5th inning.

Sports – NBA Eastern Conference Finals Series: Then we took a break from the baseball game to watch game two of this series, which the Cleveland Cavaliers won 94-82. Cleveland now leads that series 2-0. We are rooting for Lebron James to help the Cavaliers win the NBA Championship this year. 

Sports – Pirates Baseball: Then we watched the remainder of the Pirates/Mets game on the VCR in the Family Room. The Pirates won the game 4-1 with Gerrit Cole (now 6-2 for the season) pitching eight and a third innings, earning 10 strikeouts and allowing only one run. Mark Melancon earned his 10th save with three pitches in the 9th inning. The Pirates are now 19-22 for the season. Go Bucs!
After the baseball game Pat and I retreated to the library where I typed this journal entry and we both read until about 1:30am, which is typical for us.

Book: I continued reading 14 by Peter Clines on my Kindle Voyage this evening. It’s a very interesting science fiction thriller with engaging and quirky characters. 

Dow: The Dow Jones Industrial Average went down 53.72 (-0.29%) to 18,232.02 today. 

Temp/Weather: The low temperature since yesterday was 37.4 degrees and the high temperature was 87.9 degrees. The temperature was 54.1 degrees at 11pm tonight. 

This entry is from page 1605 and 1606 of my continuing daily journal, which began on December 1, 2010.

Well now you know that retirement in our little town is not very exciting, but we are very happy here and plan to stay for at least a few more years.  

I hope you and your family are well and happy.

Take care,

Sincerely Clark
Clark (May 2015)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Back to the Burgh

Hi Bill

My letter to you last week described our life in Philadelphia where Pat and l lived on Chester Avenue. Today I thought I’d write about when we moved back to Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s.

In the early ‘70s I was already thinking that a graduate degree would increase my income potential. However, I couldn’t quite decide what discipline I should pursue. When I was still working on my Bachelor’s degree at Pitt, I had been friends with Janice and Betty, who were both working on Master’s degrees in Library Science. They were very enthusiastic about pursuing library careers and they got me interested. However, I wasn’t ready to make that decision then.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in psychology, which prepared me for a whole-lot-of-nothing career, I worked at DPA (Welfare) in Philadelphia. That got me thinking about pursuing a Social Work graduate degree at Temple and I took a couple of undergraduate SW courses just to learn more about that profession. However, I decided that social work was too depressing as a long-time career for me.

During our time in the Philadelphia area, Pat and I became good friends with Walter, who was a librarian at The Philadelphia Free Library. Once again, I had a friend who displayed enthusiasm for librarianship. To make a long story short, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Library Science, and I wanted to earn that degree at my beloved University of Pittsburgh.

I got accepted into the Master’s degree program in the School of Library and Information Sciences at Pitt and Pat and I moved back to the Pittsburgh area in late summer of 1975. We moved in with Pat’s parents for a couple of weeks. Pat quickly landed a job at a Carnegie Mellon University research lab near Monroeville. We only had one car, so I drove her to work in Monroeville in the morning and searched for an apartment in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh, my old undergraduate stomping grounds, during the afternoons. Then I drove back to Monroeville to pick up Pat at 5pm.

Once again, Pat trusted me to find an acceptable apartment, even after struggling to live in the first apartment I rented for us in Philadelphia. Surprise! Surprise! I found another way-less-than-elegant apartment on Parkview Avenue near the Pitt campus, and Pat was tolerant enough to endure it. We did not waste any time moving out of her parents’ house.

The apartment was on the second floor of an old three-story row house that had been converted to three apartments. It was not elegant, but it had a fairly large kitchen, a small living room, and a fairly large bedroom in the front of the building. Oh…, and the bathroom was located outside the apartment door on the hallway landing. Yep…, I had found another quirky place to live. We had to go out of our apartment to get to our bathroom. It didn’t bother me much, but I seem to remember that Pat was not pleased by the situation. It was our bathroom and as far I was could determine no one else used it, but they could have. There were only two other tenants in the building, i.e., a woman upstairs and a woman downstairs. They were not particularly sociable but they were nice enough.

The parents of our upstairs neighbor lived in the single-family row house next door, and they had lived there for a long time. Therefore, their family seemed to feel like our apartment building was an extension of their house. Our bedroom window was over a porch roof and their porch roof was very close to ours. They had a young son, maybe 13-14 years old who didn’t have a key for the front door to our building. However, he would crawl out on their porch roof and then onto our porch roof and tap on our bedroom window asking us to let him come through our apartment and go upstairs to visit his sister’s apartment. Needless to say, we were not delighted by him scrambling around at our bedroom window. Eventually, he took the hint and realized he shouldn’t do that anymore.

Our neighborhood was convenient for me to walk to and from the Pitt campus. However, Pat’s commute to Monroeville for her job through congested traffic was not a drive in the country. It was stressful and dangerous, especially during the winter when there were snow storms. At that time we had an Opel Manta Luxus, a very small car that was not good on ice and snow. Pat had to ascend a very steep and long hill to get from the highway to the lab where she worked. The road up the hill often got very icy and sometimes she (and other employees) had trouble getting up that hill. Sometimes the car would completely loose traction three-quarters of the way up the hill and then it would begin sliding backwards down the hill. Sometimes the car would spin in circles as it left the road and became stuck. Meanwhile, many of her colleagues would not even attempt to drive up the hill, and they would often sit in the restaurant at the bottom of the hill watching Pat (and rating her performance) spinning her way down the hill or off the road. Luckily, some of the lab employees had big trucks and they would pull their colleagues’ vehicles back onto the road when necessary. Stalwart as always, she persevered and made it to and from work almost every day. Some days, but very few, I was able to drive her to work and then pick her up after work.

Meanwhile, I walked to campus every day for classes, and spent much time in Hillman Library writing papers and studying for tests. I also got a part-time job doing research for one of my professors. I quickly discovered that I liked the field of librarianship and my professors very much. It was another grueling time in our lives, but it was well worth enduring. It prepared me for a 33-year career in librarianship in three different university library systems.

Bill - As I wrote this, I thought again about how both of us had very successful long-time careers in education. I also thought about how proud our parents were of us. I’m so grateful for what they gave us.

Please take care.

Sincerely Clark

3715 Park Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA
Our apartment was on the second floor of the building on the corner.
The photo was taken in June 1977 the day we moved out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Another Slice of Life in Philly

Hi Bill

I hope this letter finds you and your family well and happy. Previously, I wrote about my experiences while working for DPA in Philadelphia during the ‘70s. That got me remembering the west Philadelphia neighborhood that Pat and I lived in for two years during that time.

I didn’t have much money when I first moved to Philly and that made it difficult for me to find a nice apartment in “The City of Brotherly Love.” I also needed to find one quickly. Luckily an apartment materialized on Chester Avenue on a subway-surface trolley route just before the tracks snaked underground, which was convenient for me to get to work and back. It was located in a very old diverse neighborhood with large aging dirty-brick apartment buildings that reached 4 or 5 floors with no elevators.

I saw an ad for one of those apartment buildings and went to their “office” where I met the owner, who turned out to be a rather eccentric young man. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a robe and slippers, and that his office contained a bed. In addition, lots of women seemed to adorn the room, and they also seemed to adorn him at times. Hey, I guess pimps can save enough money to buy up old apartment buildings! It was the carefree narcissistic early 1970s. The price was right and he wouldn’t be visiting my apartment with his robe and women.

I rented a small (actually tiny), third-floor, sparsely-furnished, one-bedroom apartment from the social-climbing pimp wannabe Hugh Hefner. Needless to say, the apartment lacked elegance. When you opened the door the tiny bathroom was only a few feet straight ahead. To the left was a small living room with an ugly sofa. Behind the living room, through an arched wall opening was a cramped kitchen with an aging gas stove, beat-up refrigerator, and a small table and two chairs. To the left of the refrigerator was a doorway (lacking a door) that led to the bedroom with a double bed. In addition, the refrigerator cord had to be plugged into an outlet in the bedroom. There was no other furniture and no closets anywhere in the place. In addition, the apartment was not air conditioned and it was very hot during the summers. I was living in the lap of luxury! I lived alone so it was no problem.

However, within a couple of months I could not live without the love of my life, who I had left in Pittsburgh. Therefore I journeyed to Pittsburgh to visit Pat and we got married about a month later. She was not enamored with my apartment. Even the psychedelic flower wallpaper in the bathroom did not appeal to her. Our kitchen window was very close to the apartment building next to ours and we could see into many of the windows of the building, which was often interesting. In addition, every morning an older gentleman in an open window directly across from us would repeatedly cough his lung out. He was a treat to wake up to. Pat’s negative opinion was solidified when a mouse popped out of the back burner of the stove one day and she smacked it with a spatula. In fact it was a struggle for two of us to live in that apartment, and eventually we were able to switch to a much larger one-bedroom, with a balcony facing the front of the building. Otherwise, our marriage would probably have crumbled.

That neighborhood was also very interesting. We were one block from Clark Park, which provided a small grassy area during the daytime but had to be avoided at night. Unfortunately, crime was a factor in the entire area, but we were city people and learned to deal with it. Parking was only along the streets and cars were often vandalized, including ours. Virtually all of the ground-level businesses had bars or pull-down metal locking grates on the windows and doors. Burglaries and robberies were prevalent and we had to learn to deal with those problems. Surprisingly, we were attacked by a small pack of dogs late one night while walking from our car to the apartment building. I had to kick the hell out of them to chase them away, but that could have ended differently.

There were a few “Mom and Pop” variety stores and restaurants in the neighborhood that were convenient for us. In addition, there was a very interesting pizza shop that made fantastic pizza and we often patronized it. All of the employees were Italian who did not speak English as far as we could determine. In addition, previous employees kept disappearing and new employees kept appearing from one visit to the next. The really amazing thing about that pizza shop was that it had no bars or metal windows/door coverings like all the other businesses, but it was never victimized by crime, i.e., no robberies, burglaries, broken windows, etc. Now how would you explain that?

We also had some interesting friendly acquaintances in the apartment building and in the neighborhood. One unforgettable character lived in another building near ours, but we would often see him walking his enormous Great Dane. We figured him to be a pimp, but he was always very friendly and we talked to him and petted the Dane frequently. Strange friends in strange places are amazing.

Bill, I think I drove you through the neighborhood and past our apartment building one time and you questioned our sanity. However, we survived that apartment building and neighborhood for two years and then moved out of the inner city. 

Thinking back, Pat and I would not want to change any our experiences in that neighborhood. They broadened our knowledge of life and our compassion for others and enhanced our relationship. However, I don’t think I’d like living in a similar neighborhood these days.

Sincerely Clark

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Slice of Life in Philly

Hi Bill

Today I’ve been thinking about when I worked for The Department of Public Assistance (DPA) in Philadelphia back in the 70s. You may remember that I couldn’t find a job in Pittsburgh after finishing my psychology degree (imagine that). So I took a Pennsylvania Civil Service test that eventually led to a Caseworker position in Philly. You and Jane helped me transition by letting me stay with you for a couple of weeks while I commuted by train into Philly. Eventually I found an apartment on Chester Avenue just off the University of Pennsylvania campus and near Clark Park (believe it or not).

The caseworker job turned out to be a game changer for me. In addition to providing a decent salary, benefits, and a more professional experience, it also introduced me to the realities of poverty and inner-city life that was heartbreaking to witness at times. However, I was also amazed by the determination and resilience of my clients. Most of them were good people who were trapped in poverty. My job involved visiting clients in their homes and office appointments with them. I had to determine their continuing eligibility for benefits and encourage them to follow through with employment searches and other requirements. I got to know and like most of them very well.

Nevertheless I experienced many strange and unpredictable interactions. Raymond, one of my on-again off-again clients, was always interesting. He had alcohol/substance abuse problems and he couldn’t seem to follow through with his treatment and eligibility requirements. We often had to stop his benefits and he would come to the office and confront me. My response was “Raymond stop yelling and sit down”; “Raymond put that knife back in your pocket.”; “Raymond let’s not do the threatening knife thing again. Put it away and get yourself under control.” I experienced similar behavior with other clients in the office: “James, put the folding chair down before you hurt someone or yourself with it.” I had people swing folding chairs above their heads threatening to hit me and others. Sometimes I had to grab those chairs and take them away from the client. I also remember the guy who brought an ax to the office and put it down on the reception desk while asking to see his caseworker (not me). Of course we did have a security guard, but he never really had to help me, although it was good to know he was there.

Walking through the neighborhoods for home visits was also interesting. We had to carefully pay attention to the surroundings. However, most of my clients watched out for me. I remember one time when I was approaching a client’s door a group of teenagers formed around me in a threatening manner. Luckily we were in front of my client’s residence and he told them to leave me alone.

There were also some humorous incidents while I worked that job. I remember visiting one very attractive woman client in her one-room apartment. She was very nice and even flirted with me, but she seemed a little strange. When I asked how her job search was going, she said, “The only thing I’m good at is keeping house.” She was a new client and I had not bothered to read her case record carefully. When I got back to the office I discovered that “She” was really a “He.” That fact didn’t bother me, but it was a little surprising. Another humorous thing about those inner-city neighborhoods was, when it was hot, the kids would bring hoses to the sidewalk, or even open the fire hydrants, to cool off. They also loved to fill buckets with water and dump them on passing pedestrians and especially they loved to dump them into the open windows of passing cars. It was actually pretty funny.

Overall, working for DPA was a great experience and I liked most of my clients. They were mostly good people who struggled with hard lives. However, I decided that I needed to get a graduate degree and I moved on after 3-4 years. It was the right move for me. Unfortunately, I moved out of the Philadelphia area, which made our relationship more challenging. I am still grateful for the help you gave me during those years.

Sincerely Clark

Clark during the 1970s