216 Cards

I started collecting postcards on family road trips when I was 8 or so. This chocolate-colored card box holds many that I bought in gift shops and motel lobbies at 5 or 10 cents a piece. When I realized I was beginning a "collection" (in addition to my collections of cat miniatures, pennies, used calendars, and stuffed animals), I added the ones my mother had sent to me on business trips and those my grandparents mailed on vacations and cross-country drives. Note the paper dividers for each state that I carefully wrote out in my well-practiced 5th-grade script. Most are from the 1970s and '80s. I had no idea that one day they'd be "vintage postcards"--or would be such a Grimm's fairy-tale forest of memories, odd and long-forgotten.

"The Buccaneer Motor Lodge, Jekyll Island, Georgia"

Two days ago Mr. O'Kitten asked me if he could borrow a few cards for a show he's working on, a theater production that has something to do with unsent postcards. I pulled out the plastic index card box and opened it to show him how many old cards I had (and, admittedly, to mull over how I felt about lending them to the theater for a few weeks).

I pulled out a couple of entirely random examples to show him my odd little collection's diversity, and, in doing so, discovered that I had a story to tell him about each card I drew out of the small box. The Buccaneer Motor Lodge, for example, was the motel we stayed at several times on annual family vacations to Jekyll Island. The card is surely from the late '70s, and I love the carefully posed couple gazing endearingly (if a bit stupidly) into each other's eyes. I remember the pool (kidney-shaped, which makes it no more appealing) with water as warm as if it had been artificially heated.

"Spacious accomodations and activity-filled days make this
the perfect family resort...located on the beach of historic
Jekyll Island, 3500 acres of pure pleasure on the Atlantic.
Golfing, swimming, fishing and tennis are yours to enjoy year
'round on this Golden Isle."

I'd gone back to Jekyll at some point, perhaps in college or shortly after, and the beach was so much narrower...I'm still not sure how much of that has to do with memory (everything is so much bigger in childhood) and how much with erosion (possible damage from 1989's Hugo?). The Buccaneer postcard reminds me of sitting on the edge of that pool once with my twin second cousins Ashley and Mandy who were from Florida and loved to swim (I didn't), and of the boardwalk stroll from the motel to the beach, through the live oaks, palmettoes, and yucca that would be strung with spider webs booby-trapped with large, leggy, jewel-like spiders. Watching seagulls and crabs alike scurry across the beach, and hopefully not stepping on any jellyfish. Hunting for unbroken sand dollars. Eating key lime pie.

"Main Entrance to JEKYLL ISLAND, GEORGIA. Year
'Round Beach Resort, operated by the Jekyll Island
State Park Authority. Located approximately eight
miles from Brunswick, Georgia, just off U.S. High-
way 17 (Alternate). Color by C.L. Marsh"

In another random example pulled for Mr. O'Kitten, we discovered that my grandmother visited Michigan in 1983 and the Lawrence Welk show on the Sheridan Motel TV was a notable highlight.

"Veldheer's Tulip Gardens    Photo: John Penrod"

delightful experiences at Holland, Michigan, is a
visit to these colorful gardens. Windmills, authentic
Netherlands costumes and magnificent bursts of
myriad plantings treat the eyes and tempt the senses."

After additional examples, I realized that the box was rich with the sediment of childhood and family and memory. I'd carried the box--small and portable as it was--with me from place to place, mostly adding cards from friends, like this 1988 postcard of Times Square sent to me by Mike on his first visit to New York City. 

He writes, "I did finally get to see New York. Yeah. And it was truly out-of-hand! There certainly are a lot of bizarre and wonderful craziness-types of things going on, huh? ... We did Antique Boutique, Tower [Records], Canal St., the Theater District, just about everything we could in a day. But I liked the roller rink in Central Park."

"NEW YORK CITY, Times Square 
in the heart of the Theater District" (1988)

I didn't realize that corner had changed quite so dramatically until I found his card, but then again, it has been 25 years.

Times Square, Broadway and 46th Street, 2012

Coca-Cola still has the advertising space, but the building that held their advertising is gone. On the left (west) side, NYC created a pedestrian mall by closing Broadway to traffic. You can see another "new Times Square" building on the right. (No more "girls working their way through college" in this neighborhood!)

Best of all, to my initial collection I had added a precious thirty or so cards that my grandmother entrusted to me because she knew I'd appreciate them (and save and take care of them). She had cards from as early as the 1920s, mostly mailed to various family members, and both the colorful fronts and carefully-inked backs are brimming with stories. 

This is one my grandfather sent during his few weeks in boot camp in 1944 to my Uncle Berni, who would've then been about age 4. Grandpa likely bought it at the PX. He was fond of cards with goofy cartoons on them, and the over-use of quotation marks.

"After Visiting the Fountain of Youth,
This is How I Feel"

"Florida, land of sunshine, is the Winter Playground of
the nation. Every known form of outdoor pleasuring is
pursued without the necessity of considering winter condi-
tions -- for winter skies are always smiling and December
breezes are balmy as May."

My grandfather writes, "Hi "B": "Burnie" "You" tell your "Mother" Daddy was in here (see other side of card) and that "she" better be careful when I (daddy) come home. "B" Daddy had a drink out of this well. Boy! Oh Boy. It wasn't good. Ha-Ha. Love, Daddy, a soldier." No mention of outdoor pleasuring or balmy breezes, but maybe it was too hot for either in Jacksonville, Florida, in August.

I still have at least 210 cards in the box, so I have a lot more to write about. Stay tuned.

In addition to her cards, a lifetime of memories, and a book of "Her Stories," Grandma encouraged me to "keep writing and painting." I miss her so much, and think of her every day. Thank you, Grandma, for all the gifts and all the memories.

As I close my 501st (!) Obsidian Kitten blog post (a blog I'm so glad I was able to share with you), I'm happy to say I plan to keep writing--and sharing the seemingly boundless creativity you and Grandma Warner shared with me all throughout your lives.

My cousin Tonya, my grandma, and me, 
in my grandmother's beloved hometown of Dallastown, PA


You Can Throw Your Shells on the Floor, and Dining Out, 1970s Style

Last night we went out to dinner with my 4 year-old neice. She assured me that the restaurant, a steakhouse, served "cowboy food," and, best of all, they gave you unlimited peanuts and allowed you to throw the shells right on the floor! No, really, right on the floor!

This was her new favorite restaurant (primarily due to the peanuts), but it turned out that on her previous visit, the wait staff had been decked out in cowboy hats and boots (but not last night). Also, much like at Johnny Rocket's, the waiters have to get up and dance when a particular song comes up on the jukebox. (It's not bad enough that they have to wait tables for what may well be less than minimum wage, they have to perform every half hour? Secondly, and perhaps directly related to the aforementioned humiliation--these poor kids couldn't line dance to save their lives.)

Observe the large quantity of peanut shells underfoot.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what a big impression little things--like being allowed (nay, encouraged!) to throw peanut shells on the floor--make on you when you're four years old, and I had a childhood flashback of the Betty Crocker Tree House restaurant. In my memory, the place is as magical as Disneyland...decorated like a tropical forest, full of birds (fake birds) and complete with a chirping soundtrack that assured me that they were all about to come to life. Apparently this early General Mills restaurant venture was short-lived (1968-1973 or so) and I could only find two photos.

Hey everyone, it's the '70s!

The Betty Crocker Tree House I remember was in Columbus, Ohio (on Morse Road, according to my internet search). Mr. O'Kitten also remembers one, which must've been on Long Island. Google found one in Scottsdale, AZ. I found an ad in a 1973 newspaper that indicates that there were 3 of them. Maybe that was it?

The Tree House Restaurant is described in a 1970 Scottsdale newspaper: "'Dramatic' is the only word to describe the interior. Outside-inside labels the decor. Trees and greenery...make the Tree House bright and cheerful." ("Colorful garden colors" meant "adobe golds, tawny reds and browns, wildflower yellows, subtle olive greens...against a background of natural wood tones." Welcome to the height of '70s moderne! "Four pyramid skylights will provide natural sunlight for the trees that will grow inside." Which means that I didn't imagine the trees. And the b/w photo (above) proves that I didn't imagine the cages of birds, either--check out the upper right of the photo. Whew!

My family didn't go out to eat very often, so it always felt special when we did. I remember celebrating my birthday (maybe my 5th?) at a Bill Knapp's in Michigan. According to Wikipedia, "Bill Knapp's 6-inch chocolate birthday cakes, officially known as Bill Knapp's Celebration Cakes, were regarded as one of the chain's dearest features." Now that you mention it, I do seem to remember being brought a cake. And it's the first time I remember celebrating my birthday at a restaurant, with people singing out in public. That's crazy!

I miss restaurant placemats.

The International House of Pancakes also reminds me of the 1970s. There was one near where we lived in Augusta, Georgia. I don't actually remember eating there (okay, maybe once), but the big turquoise A-frame roof was something of a landmark. We did, however, have a station wagon that looked a lot like the one on that placemat.

We occasionally ate at Ponderosa. Our Ponderosa looked just like the one in the photo. Cafeteria-style restaurants were popular in the 1970s, and I remember getting my tray, going through the line (just like my school cafeteria!) and placing an order, then you'd get your steak or burger and it'd have that little plastic flag in it that was pink or red or whatever to indicate if it was rare, medium, or well-done. I love this 1977 TV commercial, because it shows the exact plate I remember: the metal one that sat in that thick wooden base with the shaped handles. And the foil-wrapped baked-potatoes--awesome!

Down South we had Shoney's Big Boy. It was a family-style restaurant, like Denny's, Bob's, or Frisch's. Apparently, Shoney's dropped the Big Boy from it's branding in 1984. We used to eat at Shoney's when my grandparents came to visit. It was one of those places that gave kids a coloring book and crayons (my niece was keen to get hers at the restaurant last night). I always found the "big boy" in his oddly checkered overalls a bit disturbing.

The last place I want to mention is Swensen's. It's the place we went for very, very special occasions, like after my annual piano recital or special school perfomances. If you've never been to one, it's a "San Francisco-style" ice cream parlor, and the menu has great sundaes (I mean, "cable carfaits") with names like the Coit Tower and the Gold Rush. The best part, though, was the cookie.


Health Insurance and Some Thoughts on Medicaid

Protester at Union Square, November 17, 2011. Photo: Edward Arrocha.

One thing that's been on my mind over the past few weeks is the question often repeated on the news and in the media: what is OWS asking for? Granted, there is a detailed OWS declaration outlining "a feeling of mass injustice" thanks to a "corrupted system" that includes inequality and discrimination; environmental destruction and oil dependence; corporate control of the media, the courts, the government, and the economy; bank bailouts, executive bonuses at taxpayer expense, and improper seizure of homes during the mortgage crisis; lack of regulation of campaign finance; the right to education, privacy, and health care; and more. I've seen OWS summed up as "Corporate Greed is killing the American Dream" and many more nice, short messages that fit neatly on a signboard.

But at the heart of it, there is a focus on individual people and their own stories. I've heard it said again and again, "We all have a story." OWS includes the unemployed, underemployed, uninsured, and financially overextended, but it also includes many who are simply deeply concerned that our democratic system is broken and no longer provides equally for all of its citizens. I think, for the most part, people want jobs for fair wages; they want food (dare I say healthy food!), clothing, and shelter; they want health care for themselves and their families.

Frightening new statistics from the the U.S. Census Bureau place "100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it." There are many who like to portray those on public assistance as lazy and undeserving of help and bemoan throwing their tax money into a "welfare state." The article goes on to point out, however, that "of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels [emphasis mine]: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care." In other words, more than half of the 51 million Americans in this borderline-poverty category got there by doing the right thing: paying their taxes responsibly and taking care of themselves and their families by paying for health care, going to and from work, and paying for child care.

Protester at Union Square, November 17, 2011. Photo: Edward Arrocha.

As for Medicare and Social Security,
there have been no cost-of-living increases to Social Security since 2009. 55 million Americans depend on this income to pay for their homes, food, and other necessities. Medicare allows them to pay for medication and the health care they need to live. The idea of cutting these programs is absurd -- Social Security benefits represent about 41% of the income of the elderly. And before Medicare was enacted in 1965, just 56 percent of seniors had hospital insurance. We--all taxpayers and all workers--pay into these programs. Cutting them will result in more homelessness, hunger, poverty, and needless suffering in the streets and public emergency rooms--resulting in more taxes and even higher insurance premiums.

As one example of what people are looking for in their lives, I turn to health care and how badly people want--need--health insurance.

Disaster Relief Medicaid was available to New York City residents from September 2001 through January 2002. Participants received four months of coverage through traditional Medicaid providers.

I once read an article about how people had used Disaster Relief Medicaid (DRM) in NYC after 9/11. Officials at the time seemed to be surprised by two things. The first was how many people signing up for DRM were gainfully employed but didn't have any health insurance, including business owners, construction workers, retail employees, even teachers. The second was how the enrollees used DRM--they had their eyes checked and got glasses, they went to the dentist, they saw the ob/gyn and got physicals and labwork done.

Squad Company 18 Firehouse shortly after September 11, 2001. Photo: Chris Clarke

The article illustrated one crucial point to me -- officials making policy are pathetically out of touch with their consituents and what they need. It was no surprise to me that people who work--often 60 to 70 hours a week--have no health insurance, as this was true of most of my friends. It also was not news to me that people want to get glasses, go to the dentist, and have regular medical check-ups.

Wall of posters searching for people missing after September 11, 2001. Photo: Chris Clarke

According to New York State's report on the DRM, the program was implemented by mandate from
Governor Pataki about two weeks after 9/11 with a "streamlined" application process. "Infrastructure-supported communication with Medicaid computer systems suffered severe damage. Public transportation was disrupted. Information necessary to establish eligibility was not readily available. Faced with the likelihood of increased health care needs, and the inability to conduct business as usual...a new, time-limited program called Disaster Relief Medicaid/Family Health Plus [was created]. ... The DRM program was unprecedented, and so was enrollment. Thousands of New Yorkers signed up between September 2001 and January 2002. Thus DRM became an unintentional laboratory for examining the consequences of a radically simplified approach to government-funded health care." [P. 5] Mr. O'Kitten was among the 342,362 New Yorkers who enrolled. [P. 21]

Ray's Pizza in the West Village papered with posters searching
for people missing after September 11, 2001.
Photo: Chris Clarke.

Unlike the traditional Medicaid application, DRM allowed you to have higher income ($716/month for individuals, $968/couples) and the only requirements (besides income) were that you be a NYC resident with a Social Security number. The application itself was reduced from 8 pages (plus supporting documents, like bank statements and pay stubs) to a single page. Approval was reduced to 1-5 days from 1-3 months. [P. 13]

Interestingly and importantly, "Providers reported discovering a number of early cancers, early-onset heart disease, and previously undetected diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and HIV among DRM recipients." And how much of a savings in actual dollars (not to mention prevented suffering) does such early detection represent? [p.7]

Lower Manhattan shortly after September 11, 2001. Photo: Chris Clarke.

Here's the report's documentation for the DRM enrollees' use of eye care and dental services: "Generally, utilization of Medicaid services by DRM enrollees was consistent with the regular Medicaid population. Exceptions were Dental ($125 million), Laboratory ($4 million), and Eye Care Services ($5.8 million), which were utilized at higher rates; and Inpatient Services ($194 million), which were utilized at a lower rate."
[p.7] "More than 9,000 individuals [2.7%] utilized an inpatient service." [P. 15] Notably, "Nearly 23 percent of hospital admissions were for drug and alcohol treatment." [P. 15] Also of note, "More than 19,000 women sought treatment for gynecology services." [P. 15]

So what happened to DRM? "DRM was originally intended to provide four months of health care coverage. As the program evolved, it was decided to give DRM enrollees the opportunity to obtain regular Medicaid without a gap in coverage. This opportunity became the Transition Program. Following the four-month DRM authorizations, most enrollees (about 90 percent) were granted extensions, during which they could file a full application for regular Medicaid/Family Health Plus." [P. 21] "As of February 2003, there were 150,676 DRM enrollees, or 44.3 percent, who were ultimately transitioned to regular Medicaid or Family Health Plus from DRM." [P. 22]

The report notes a few interesting things in its conclusions. For instance, "The interviews and focus groups confirmed that, for some people, the life circumstances that create the need for Medicaid often prevent people from obtaining the documentation required to prove eligibility." [P. 48] Any illness that affects physical mobility would certainly fall into just such a life circumstance, as would mental illness. It would also be difficult for someone juggling many hours of low-wage work and child care to spend a day filing for Medicaid. You have file in person (which means taking the day off of work and finding a babysitter) and you may be required to return if you don't have all the proper documentation with you, which is almost a given since they always seem to come up with something you didn't bring with you.

Marylanders seeking help flood the Baltimore County office
of the State Department of Social Services. Photo: Frank Klein

For a glimpse at how daunting the application itself is, you can look at it here. As for the required documentation, the DRM report points out, "Some individuals, primarily those who work “off the books,” have problems in documenting employment. Others who have difficulty include seasonal workers whose previous year’s returns may not reflect their current situation, workers with a variety of temporary jobs, and self-employed individuals with irregular income for multiple services. It also appears that the types of employment that do not offer health insurance are often the most difficult to document."
[P. 48-49]

"[DRM] Participants’ health status varied considerably. Many of the participants felt they were in relatively good health and needed only routine preventive examinations. They had often lived with dental problems, allergies, and chronic pain without receiving treatment except in emergencies. About ten percent of the participants had chronic health conditions such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, and cancer that require ongoing care. Many stated they would do “whatever they could” to purchase the medications and treatments as often as possible. Their economic situation did not allow them to have the kind of health care their medical situation warranted [emphasis mine]. Each focus group had one or two elderly participants with at least one, and often multiple, serious, chronic health care problems. They could not afford to purchase the medications and treatments that were not fully covered by Medicare (even if they were enrolled)." [P. A-8]

"The many reasons for applying for DRM reflected participantsʼ diverse health needs. Many participants used DRM for preventive services such as check-ups, mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams, and lab tests. Dental services was mentioned most often. Receiving vision care was also a commonly used service. One participant saw a psychiatrist to help him with his reaction to 9/11. Those with previously diagnosed chronic health problems often enrolled to receive care they could not always afford in the past, including medications. Many said they signed up to receive health care services they knew they needed but could not afford
[emphasis mine]. A number of individuals had relied on emergency room visits for treatment in the past." [P. A-8, 9]

Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence,
Edward Savage and/or Robert Edge Pine.
c. 1776. Oil on canvas.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." [The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.]

If we are indeed a First World country, and believe in Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, it is indeed shameful that any one of us should endure ill health when modern medicine can relieve us of our suffering.

“Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.
“But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion.”

Therefore this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:

“They will not mourn for him:
‘Alas, my brother! Alas, my sister!’
They will not mourn for him:
‘Alas, my master! Alas, his splendor!’
He will have the burial of a donkey—
dragged away and thrown
outside the gates of Jerusalem."

Jeremiah 22:15-19

Protester at Union Square, November 17, 2011. Photo: Edward Arrocha.