20 September 2017

Flexing The Decency Muscle: “Can I Pay For This?”

By: Jon Katz

"Can I Pay For This?"

My friend Janet wrote recently about "exercising the friendship muscle," and the phrase stuck in my mind. Today, I embraced it to exercise what I called the "decency muscle," and it seemed a large step forward to me, even though it was confusing in some ways.

I think I am thinking differently about the way I wish to live in the world. Some people say we get too old to change, I say we get old enough to change, if we are lucky.

The gas cap on the side of the car got wobbly recently, it won't close properly. I couldn't fix it – I can't fix anything – and I thought it would fall off soon.

I drove to Rishinki's garage in Cambridge where I take my car for service and I asked them to take a look at it. Charlie, the thoughtful and kind mechanic who works on my car, came out to look at it. He got on the ground a few times, screwed something in, hammered something else, oiled something else, advised me that they do not make car parts as solidly as they once die, and after some more banging and twisting, the cap was on tightly and worked perfectly.

He got up off the ground, told me it was fine and started to head back into the garage.

Something pulled at me. "Excuse me," I said, "can I pay for this, it took you awhile and needed some work." He waved me off at first, and said it was no big deal, don't worry about it, but I felt I needed to insist.

"If you want to," he said, smiling. He wouldn't say no.

I went into the office and was charged $13. I got a receipt and felt good. Charlie didn't ask to be paid, but I felt a pull in my stomach at the thought of driving off without paying. I thought that he needed to be paid,  and deserved to be paid. Rather than exult in my free repair I realized I felt  better paying him for his work than getting the work for free. I have some experience in not being paid for my work and it felt good to pay the $13.

I asked Charlie about the peeling paint on the front fender of my SUV. It wasn't a serious mechanical problem, but it was ugly and he worried about rust. He said he would repair if if it was his car, he knew I wanted to keep mind forever.

I ought to get it looked at, he said,  but it had to go to an auto body shop. He recommended Performance Auto Body where I took the car to be fixed each of the two times in recent years when it collided with a deer. They do very good work there, and are nice as well.

I had some time, and I hate to put off chores, I know they will never get done, so I drove down Route 22 to Performance Auto. They remembered me there, I saw they were big dog lovers and gave them a book in appreciation for the way they fixed my car and treated me. Maria and I started dating in that car, we have been all over the country in it, on book tours and our mini-vacations, and I love it and want to drive it until one of us expires.

At the auto body shop, the woman in the office – I don't know her name – came out to look at it.

She checked the records. She told me the primer used to paint the new fender after the deer collusion was defective, and a number of people had brought their cars and trucks in to have the paint repaired.

She took full responsibility for the peeling, and said they would fix it with no charge. The company that sold them the faulty paint would not honor any work done two years ago, it was all on them and they would pay for it.

I sensed this had been a drain on them, but they were not running from it or complaining about it. I liked her honesty and directness. She said it would take two days to repair, sometimes the fender had to be taken off and painted and then put back on. It would take some time.

I thanked her, I was pleasantly surprised, I never connected the peeling to the deer accident and I was prepared to have a large bill for this work. As I opened the door, I felt a pull in my stomach. It was something I felt in my heart, inside, not in my head. I didn't think about it, I just did it.

I turned and went back to the desk. "This doesn't feel right to me," I said. "I ought to pay something for this." She looked a bit surprised. "You don't have to, but if you want to help…" She didn't have to say it. She wouldn't say no.

We agreed that if the bill was not large, I would pay it,  if it was large, we would split it. In any case, I said, you shouldn't have to pay all of it. We'll work it out.

She said sure, and I am bringing the car back in November, after we get back from New Mexico. I am glad I didn't dance out of the place, happy to be off the hook for the repairs. I don't wish to be taken advantage of, or behave foolishly. It just didn't seem right to me that these people – honest and hard-working – should bear the full responsibility for something that wasn't their fault, and that they owned up to right away.

I live in a small town, we know people here, we see one another as human beings, not as entities we can resent and complain about. They took good care of me when my car was all bashed up, and I want to take care of them insofar as I can, it seems only fair to me. That is what community is, putting yourself in the shoes of the other. We know  each other, these are not corporate behemoths with faux support.

I will never be intimate buddies with the people at the auto body shop, I may never even see them again, I hope I don't, really, I don't want to hit any more deer.

But I like the feeling in my heart when I flex the muscles of decency. I am glad I didn't cackle and gloat at their distress and my good fortune. I didn't want to call Maria up and say, "hey great news, there's no charge for the fender repair." I felt good about this afternoon, doing the right thing feels better than being angry or callous or selfish.

Yet this felt a little strange to me also. Was I being foolish? Co-dependent? Being nice to another at my own expense. It was their fault, not mine, wasn't I justified in expecting them to pay for it?

I just don't think so, it didn't feel right to me, and i have learned to listen to my own instincts.

It feels good to flex the muscles of decency and compassion. We live in a world of argument, resentment and lament. I don't want to live in that world. I am not rich, I am not a big shot, I am not delusional about money, not any more.

I like the way this afternoon went, I thought I didn't have much to do, but it turns out that I did.

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For The Mansion Kitchen, A New Air Conditioner: Finding My Destiny, My Own Humanity

By: Jon Katz

A New Air Conditioner For The Kitchen

For the past decade, I've done some therapy work for hospice, dementia units and assisted care facilities.

I usually breezed in and out, letting people hug or pet my therapy dogs and watch them smile.Then I left.  Except for the hospice work, I was rarely in any one place for more than 45 minutes and almost never got to know anyone too well. My job was to bring the dog and leave myself at the door.

It felt good, and the residents and patients love to see the dogs, it was important work, but over time, I was drawn to do more, to get more involved.

This work with dogs like Red is, in one way, easy.

I didn't have to get to know anyone too well, didn't have to put my own emotions on the line.

I left the hard work to the staff and the professionals. I was not too attached to the people who inevitably got sick or died.

This past year has jolted me into reaching deeper into my self and exploring my own humanity. I wanted to spent time in one place, not many, and stop hiding behind the dog, or the inevitable pain and loss and death that also inhabits these institutions, and that is a part of life.

I wanted to know people, to touch them, help them, and make a difference in their lives and fill the holes in their lives.I didn't wish to hide from them, I wanted them to know me.

In an odd sense,  Donald Trump was a great gift to me, love him or not, his election provoked me into choosing between a life of lament, argument and frustration or a life that was suddenly serious about doing good in my remaining years rather than running my mouth on Facebook or Twitter. Or simply letting people pet my dogs.

Everywhere around me, on both sides of the great divide, were angry and wounded people. I wanted to go around that morass or perhaps rise above it and actually do something tangible. I had the revelation that you didn't need to be a saint to do good. So I qualified.

it was a good decision for me. The Mansion residents and the refugees and immigrants I have met have enriched my life, deepened my empathy and humanity, and opened me up to emotion and love. We have become close, there is much love between us, or at least, some of us.

I surprised myself with my own energy and focus, I have driven thousands of miles in this work, devoted many hours, and yes,  spent a lot of my own money.

The work continues and deepens. By hanging in there with these people, I have found a new family, a new home, where I am as comfortable as I have ever been, perhaps because I am needed and can make a tangible difference. And because I never run away from need.

It's not just matter of walking the hallways with a sweet dog, my heart and soul and energy must also come along.  Morgan Jones, a case manager at the Mansion, reminds me from time to time that it isn't really the money that matters, it's me as well.

And another gift emerged, the Army Of Good, a remarkable group of invisible but great-hearted people who have formed around my writing and my mission to join me in this commitment. I would have gotten nowhere without you.

By knowing the residents and the staff,  we have learned to trust one another. I have learned what it is that people really need.  They love Red for sure, but the work transcends that now.

When they run out of soap. When they need to talk to one of their children. When they are blue and need flowers or a hug. When they need letters, or books, or photos from the outside world. When they need pencils and crayons and fans or air conditioners, or a ride on a boat, or a CD version of the Bible, or clothes, or a trip to a park, or ice cream, or a hug from a dog or some yarn or patterns.

I am not playing God, or altering the sometimes hard realities of their lives, I am simply filling the holes in them if I can, listening to them, honoring the very real boundaries that exist between myself and them, and that should remain between us. Knowing what not to do is often as important as knowing what it is I can do.

And sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

This week, some important things are arriving at the Mansion, thanks to the Army Of Good.

A reclining chair for Art, whose back and legs cause him so much pain. A lift chair for Jane, confined to a wheelchair and in urgent need of help standing up. Today, Peggie's air conditioner will be installed. Tomorrow, Bill's air conditioner will be installed, their rooms get warm in the sun.

I discovered during our Pizza Party lunch on September 11 that the air conditioner in the Mansion kitchen had broken some time ago, and could not be immediately replaced (the Mansion is a very loving place, but it is also a Medicaid facility, money is hard to come by, subsidies are being drastically cut). The broken air conditioner is still in the kitchen window, boarded up.

Kitchens are hot by nature and design, this was was roasting the staff, who are especially dedicated to the residents and loved by them. I went to the Mansion/Refugee Fund where all of the donations go and purchased a new 28,000 BTU Frigidaire 230 volt window mounted Heavy-Duty unit with temperature sensing and remote control. The unit cost $799.85.

I also purchased a three-year Squaretrade extended protection plan. If the unit breaks down for any reason, someone will come to fix it. That cost $27.44.

As with all purchases, I checked with Kevin, the maintenance director, and  with the Mansion staff. I also read all of the available reviews online and checked with a consumer advocacy group.

A lot of good, a lot of money. I don't have a precise total, but we have  spent tens of thousands of dollars this year on good deeds for vulnerable people. That is a lot of good. The idea is for lots of people to send small donations. They add up and they go where people can see the results. That's what much of my photograph is about.

I've kept the fund-raising quiet for a month or so, I wanted to give people a rest, and there were many needs arising from the hurricanes. Next week, I will return to my work with the refugees, RISSE has been quiet for a few weeks. Next Thursday I will begin meeting again with refugees and immigrants in need. My work at the Mansion has continued and will continue.

At the moment, there is $1,500 in my Mansion/ Refugee fund, we have done much good this summer. If anyone wishes to contribute to this work, you can do so by sending a check to Jon Katz, P.O, Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or through Paypal, [email protected] Please mark checks or payments "Mansion/Refugee Fund." Donations to my blog, which support all of this work and my picture-taking, are separate.

I am more committed to this work than ever, now that I see how effective and efficient it is. Thank you for your support.


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Two Blue Heron Prints Available For Sale

By: Jon Katz

Two Blue Heron Prints

Two weeks ago, I offered to sell 50 of the now famous Blue Heron prints, one of the first I took with my new Archomat Lens. The prints sold out immediately, more than any other photograph I have ever taken. Two of the people who ordered the print – a signed limited edition on archival paper printed by George Forss – said they couldn't afford to purchase the photos now, so I am offering those two up for sale again.

If they don't sell for some reason, we'll offer them again at our upcoming Open House (Belly Dancers at 1 p.m. Saturday, October 7) on Columbus Day Weekend. The photo costs $110 plus shipping.

If you are interested in one of these two, let Maria know at [email protected] Thanks. Both will be signed and part of the limited edition series of this photograph.

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Best Friends: Gus And Susie

By: Jon Katz

Gus And Susie

One by one, Gus is befriending the sheep, who are not used to being loved by dogs. Susie seems to have become attached to Gus, she comes over to greet him in the pasture every morning – under the disapproving glare of Red – and usually gives her some gentle licks on the nose.

Gus is fearless around the sheep now, and they know not to run him over when they are being chased by Red. Susie always comes looking for him, and she usually gets a kiss on the nose for her trouble.

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The Prince Of Bedlam Farm

By: Jon Katz

The Prince Of Bedlam Farm

Gus is coming into his own as a farm dog. He is totally at ease on top of Fanny, gazing out at the pasture, ears up and swiveling like radar.  Fanny does not let anything much ride on her back, but she is happy to have Gus up there and he is quite happy to be there, he has the vantage point he wants to gaze out over his kingdom, the farm.

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