Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Depending on your definition, William Shatner almost certainly is not the oldest person ever to go into space.

As an aside, count me among those people who wish that billionaires could find something more constructive to do with fortunes so vast they literally could not spend all of their money if they tried. In the early 20th century, our nation’s superrich men competed to see who could erect the tallest phallic object in New York City as untold millions around the world starved and died of disease, and today they launch phallic objects into space amid a global pandemic.

However, like millions of other lifelong “Star Trek” fans, I got a small kick from the sight of Shatner in his Blue Origins jacket – which had stitched on his right chest “W. SHATNER” and under it “AKA CAPT. JAMES T. KIRK” – gazing about the space capsule in open-eyed wonder and, back on Earth, gushing emotionally about the experience.

And at 90 years old, Shatner certainly is older than any astronaut, cosmonaut or wealthy space tourist Earth’s various government space agencies or billionaires have sent into space.

It’s just a little arrogant to assume no older person, anywhere, ever went into space.

My quibble here is with the definition of “person.”

Many who remember “Star Trek” probably also remember astronomer and exobiologist Carl Sagan on his show “Cosmos” discussing the odds of life developing elsewhere in the universe, particularly intelligent life reaching a technologically advanced stage. (If you don’t remember or never saw it, you can find it online at https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x271be)

To summarize, even at the time that was recorded in 1980, astronomers estimated there could be 400 billion stars just in the Milky Way, and Sagan conservatively estimated that perhaps one-quarter had planets, most of those having more than one planet. If conditions for life are rare or the odds of intelligent life are low, there could be just a handful of civilizations in the entire galaxy, or even none other than ours – but if the chances are better, there could be thousands or millions.

And there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe.

If we met intelligent extraterrestrials, and instead of trying to kill us they treated us as peers, would we not begin to refer to them as a people? Or any one of them a person?

And what if some of them have longer life spans than we do?

It’s conceivable that there are or have been dozens of planets where intelligent life developed and advanced technologically to the point of at least limited space exploration, and that at least one of them sent someone into space who has lived longer than Shatner.

So all we can accurately say is that Shatner is the oldest human to travel into space – that we know of.

After all, there’s also the whole topic of humans secretly abducted by aliens …

One of the most difficult kinds of stories to do for the newspaper is one about someone who has died, involving interviews to go beyond the person’s achievements and gain a sense of who the person was.

It’s difficult because most people in their grief retreat to superlatives, describing a person’s qualities in the abstract. “She was just the best, a great leader.” “He always gave of himself, he always stepped up.”

What makes for a strong story are anecdotes – descriptions of scenes, conversations and events that illustrate concretely the person’s qualities and personality.

When you are able to elicit a few of those, the fabric of a personality always seems to come together. The stories line up, consistently adding detail to a portrait.

As I interviewed several people on Wednesday who knew Paul Broyhill, who led Broyhill Furniture Industries when it rose to its greatest prominence and prosperity in the 1970s, the stories also lined up in another way: They illustrated philosophies I had heard described the previous night in the first episode of High Point University President Nido Qubein’s new half-hour UNC-TV show, “Side by Side.” Qubein interviewed John Maxwell, a renowned author and lecturer on leadership.

Maxwell said that leadership is influence, which he defined as making those around you better.

“If you really want to be a great leader, just start by specifically and intentionally adding value to people on a daily basis,” he said.

One of the things Broyhill was best known for was his company’s executive training, which included teaching the value of relationships and how to build them.

Maxwell said that one of the key elements of being a good leader is humility. In part, that means being willing to learn.

Broyhill demonstrated this quality by surrounding himself with talented people, training them and asking their opinions and advice. He also frequently traveled to meet with the retailers selling his company’s products and seeking their opinions and new product ideas.

Maxwell said that humility also is “the ability to care for people, who they are, what they do.”

Jeff Cook said he saw this after being named president of Broyhill Furniture in 2007 and meeting Paul Broyhill. By that point, Broyhill had been out of the business for over 20 years, but the human connections he had built at the company were still clearly evident.

“Everyone he hired, he knew their names, he knew their families,” Cook said.

One of Broyhill’s qualities everyone mentions was his vision, his ability to recognize where the industry should go in the future. Cook described a conversation with Broyhill about the industry’s offshoring of jobs to Asia that showed he retained this ability long into retirement.

“He hated that Broyhill (Furniture) had closed all its case goods plants and sold all the equipment to the Chinese,” Cook said. “He said that sooner or later they’re going to get you.”

Broyhill felt that if work had to be sent overseas, the company should have mothballed its factories in North Carolina and retained the equipment, holding everything in reserve in case conditions later warranted bringing the work back to the U.S. – which we have seen being played out. Some jobs have been brought back, and we also have seen how the unforeseen conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic have put the furniture industry at the mercy of long delays in its far-flung global supply chains.

Vision is not an element of leadership that can be learned, it is simply a gift. You have it or you don’t.

But Maxwell talked about that too.

“Understand that you have a gift, and it was God-given, … but remember it was a gift,” he said. “You didn’t earn it, you’re not amazing yourself.”

And that’s another reason to surround yourself with talented people and help them to become better and achieve more. Whatever your gift may be, it might not be the one that’s needed at a particular moment.

So you may ask what conclusion I have drawn from this experience of watching a TV interview and seeing its lessons echoed back at me a day later.

I haven’t decided, except that if Qubein interviews an exorcist, I’m not leaving the house the next day.

Fifteen years ago, actor and director Clint Eastwood made two films about the World War II battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima — one told from the perspective of American soldiers, one from the perspective of Japanese soldiers.

The juxtaposition illustrates what is meant by the phrase “context is everything” — as well as a number of other brief sayings we frequently use but rarely analyze.

For instance, “Don’t judge another man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”

The broad truth behind that saying is that any individual’s lived experience is the context that shapes his or her life and how that person perceives the world and reacts to it.

Dr. Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist at the University of London, says your brain makes sense of the information it is presented based on you have experienced before.

“The functional structure of your brain is literally a representation of your history. We only ever see what was useful to see in the past,” he said.

Two people with different experiences can watch the same event and interpret it differently because their experiences create their assumptions about how the world works and how others behave.

This is why it is useful, regardless of your own background and experiences, to listen to and read about the experiences of people who are different than you. You don’t know their stories.

All this was brought to mind last week by the last sentence of the letter that the local NAACP sent out reacting to how the City Council responded to its call for a commission to study the issue of reparations: “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.”

The website Afriprov.org, which explores African proverbs, says there are a number of variations in the wording of this proverb, but all deal with context and the parts of a story that are left out in the retelling.

“When a hunter brings home a lion … it may very well be due to the hunter’s skills, but it may as well be due to pure luck. The lion might have been sleeping or injured. No matter in what circumstances the lion is killed, a hunter will always tell a story that makes the hunter shine. Is the hunter telling the true story or just bragging? No one will ever know,” the website says.

“This Ewe-mina proverb refers to this unknown part of the struggle between the lion and the hunter because … a story is never complete until one hears from both sides.”

The key word is “hearing,” which means not just hearing the words but understanding, before concluding what the speaker really means, the experiences that shaped the perceptions of the person who is speaking and what those perceptions are.

When another person has a radically different interpretation of an event than you do, trying to make sense of the difference can be difficult, as Lotto explains.

“We hate to have our assumptions questioned because it creates uncertainty, which leads to stress. Your brain hates uncertainty,” Lotto says. “Yet the best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty; the questions that challenge what I assume to be true already.”

The U.S. State Department has a website offering new diplomats a primer in understanding cultural differences and communication styles called “So You’re an American? A guide to answering difficult questions abroad.”

Its lessons could be broadly applied at home as well. Misunderstanding doesn’t begin at the water’s edge.

The Thinker

I have a contemplative chipmunk.

Or rather, living near my house there is either a chipmunk or a family of them prone to striking a contemplative pose and holding it for an inordinate amount of time.

When my wife and I first moved to High Point, in the backyard we found a pretty chunk of gray-and-white-striped granite roughly the size of a human head. My wife moved it to a corner of the back deck. The next morning, she looked out to find a chipmunk perched on top of the rock simply staring out at the yard.

Every morning, the chipmunk returned. And each time, it remained on that perch, not moving, for a long while.

When the weather turned cold, it disappeared, but in the spring it came back — or it and others came back. Sometimes the chipmunk on the rock looks a little smaller than usual. Maybe there is a young chipmunk mimicking a parent’s perching.

Whether there is one or there are more, whether it’s learned or just in the nature of chipmunks, the behavior is the same.

The critter gets up on the rock and just looks across the yard — not unlike the way I sometimes sit in a chair on the deck and look out across the yard, silently staring as my mind wanders. Sometimes I think about yard projects I want to get to, some short-term, some for next summer, or the next. Sometimes I simply wonder at nature, looking up into the trees, the setting sun still lighting the highest leaves stirring in the breeze as the darkness starts to deepen down below. Sometimes I worry about money or work or myriad choices I’ll never be able to undo even if I discovered during my rumination an alternative I would have preferred. Sometimes I just stew.

Sometimes I look at that rock and wonder what the chipmunk thinks as it looks across the yard.

Is it planning lunch?

Thinking about digging a new extension for its burrow?

Wondering whether Mrs. Chipmunk will be feeling frisky later?

Worrying about the neighbor’s cat?

Maybe it’s just absorbing a moment’s peace.

Or perhaps it is just trying to figure out what the big, white-headed beast keeps staring at across the yard, and why it won’t just stay inside its brick cave and leave the deck to its rightful owner.

Everything most important in Robert Booth’s life seemed to coalesce Friday evening as friends and family gathered for his pastoral installation ceremony and he surprised his girlfriend by asking her to marry him. She said yes.

Bishop Kerry Thomas, who hosted the event at God’s United House of Grace and Mercy on Leonard Avenue, said that afterward as they changed into their regular clothes, the 25-year-old Booth wrapped his arms around him in a bear hug.

“He embraced me so tightly, I can’t even relate to you — you know the passion you can feel in a hug?” Thomas said. “He whispered to me that that night … was the first time he’d ever felt at home.”

Barely four days later Booth, father of a 2-year-old boy, was gunned down outside his south High Point apartment.

The High Point Police Department released few details except that it happened shortly before 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot at 304 Ardale Drive, near Interstate 85 Business east of S. Main Street, and that no one else was shot.

Police did not release his name Wednesday, but friends identified him to The Enterprise as Robert A. Booth Sr.

Police said Wednesday they were seeking a maroon-colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Rogue.

Brandon Smith, a longtime friend, said everyone who knew Booth is in a whirlwind.

“We’re just devastated. We went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral,” he said.

Smith had just been riding with Booth on Sunday, listening to gospel music from an album Booth was about to release.

Music and the church bound together many elements of Booth’s life. He was raised in a religious family, played music for his church and later felt called into ministry, following in his father’s footsteps, Smith said.

Smith met Booth over 10 years ago at God’s United House of Grace and Mercy, where Booth was the organist.

A generous man with a gregarious nature, Booth met people easily and quickly made people feel at home. In addition to being a musician, he had started doing some stand-up comedy a couple of years ago, Smith said.

“He loved making people laugh,” he said.

Booth’s humor and generous nature fed into the ministerial outreach work he did, Thomas said.

“Robert went after people other people were afraid to go after, such as gang-bangers and people on drugs, people who didn’t look like us or smell like us,” Thomas said. Despite wading in where others dared not, “I believe he was a man that had no enemies.”

Before the pandemic, Booth began building his own congregation, Hood Holiness Church. His pastoral installation ceremony on Friday essentially formalized his role as a pastor and recognized the work he already had been doing in his church, Thomas said.

Leading up to the ceremony, Booth also began telling those closest to him about plans to propose to his girlfriend, Star Lane, Smith said. He asked her parents for permission, and he told Thomas of his plan to pop the question during the ceremony.

“He said, ‘Bishop, is it OK if I propose to my girlfriend at my installation?’ ” Thomas said. “He was worried it would detract from the ceremony, but I thought it would add to it.”

Booth later posted a short video to Facebook showing the moment. As he recited a passage from Genesis about marriage — “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife” — he knelt before Lane, who bent over as though losing her breath as the church erupted in cheers.

Thomas said Booth’s father, Rodney, drove more than five hours from his home in Georgia to be at the ceremony. In a photo Booth also posted to Facebook, Rodney Booth absolutely beams with happiness alongside Robert and Robert’s son, R.J.

Robert Booth’s energy and happiness overflowed as well, Thomas said.

“I don’t know if he even slept that day,” he said.

Everything seemed to be coming together at once for Booth, Smith said.

“Robert had really gotten on a straight path to know what he wanted to do with his life,” he said.

It is unclear exactly what happened Tuesday evening, Thomas said. Everyone is shattered, and he has heard differing versions.

Smith said he was told that Booth saw a vehicle outside his home and someone sitting inside, and he did what his instincts always drove him to: He went to talk.

“Robert — he was just doing what he normally does,” Smith said. “He went out to see if they needed help.”

Let me first say that if offered a reward or prize for saving High Point from icy catastrophe in Thursday’s winter storm, I will decline it.

I am gratified that my actions may have prevented widespread damage and electricity disruption, along with the human misery that would accompany that, but it would be wrong to seek or accept any reward.

No, my actions were prompted by no heroic intent but instead by my desire to avoid looking like an idiot for the second time in less than a week. Saving the city was a happy byproduct.

When the previous ice storm hit last weekend, the power in our neighborhood went out around 8:30 a.m. My initial thought was that my wife and I could stay with my stepmother because she has gas logs, so her house would stay warm even though her power was out too.

She told us, “Come on over.”

But as we began to gather our things, she texted a reminder: Her house gets its water from a well, so no power means no pump and no water. If we came, we would have to bring containers of water to flush the toilets.

This altered the calculus.

Maybe it would be better to just add layers of clothing and stay in the growing cold.

Then I slapped my forehead. Though we had lived in the house since June, somehow I had forgotten an element of the room.

“We have a fireplace,” I said. “Let’s just build a fire.”

The previous owners had left some firewood beside the house. Happily enough, they were under cover and were dry, so I set about building a fire.

As the flames gradually grew, I saw a few curls of smoke rolling up past the mantle into the living room, but once the fire was full and hot, everything appeared to go up the chimney.

We set up a table near the fire to play Scrabble while waiting for the power to come back on.

Gradually I noticed the room growing a bit hazy. Some smoke continued drifting into the room.

After a couple of hours, the amount of smoke started to worry me. I set up a ladder by the smoke detector.

I grabbed a towel, opened the front door and started waving smoke out the door.

After a minute I thought it looked like smoke was rolling thickly off the porch. Turning back toward the fireplace, I saw smoke pouring into the living room toward the front door. I had made things worse.

The hallway smoke alarm went off, and then the alarm’s control panel in the kitchen started screeching.

I scrambled up the ladder and removed the smoke detector from the ceiling to run outside with it as my phone rang – the alarm company checking to see what was happening. I grabbed the screeching control panel as I answered the phone and went out the door.

“No,” I said, “the power went out and we built a fire in the fireplace, and we have some smoke in the house.”

Back inside, I looked around the thick haze and felt panic.

Had I ruined the house? Would we have to hire a disaster mitigation company?

We decided we would just have to let the fire die on its own.

So we sat in the smoke and kept playing Scrabble. I tried to focus on the board. Any glance around renewed my panic.

Gradually, the air cleared. The next day, we cleaned out the fireplace, and the house no longer smelled of smoke.

A couple days later, the forecast of another ice storm loomed, but this one was supposed to be much worse – up to a half inch of ice. Maybe even more than that. Trees would buckle everywhere.

I didn’t want a repeat performance of my errors.

Given the age of our house, our fireplace probably originally burned coal, which I once was told meant you could burn a Duraflame log in it but not wood. When I went to the store to find one, it seemed many other people had a similar idea. But I tried other stores and eventually found a box of logs. If the neighborhood was without power for a couple of days, we still would be able to keep warm.

I changed the order of the cars in the driveway so the four-wheel-drive vehicle was in the back.

And Thursday morning I lit a burner on the gas stove (the ignition on the stove is electric, so you can’t light it after the power is out) and kept it on low. Now if the power failed we could heat soup.

We were as ready as we could possibly be for a catastrophic ice storm.

Naturally, nothing much happened. Some ice, but no catastrophe, and it melted by mid-afternoon.

As long as I hold on to the box of logs, I expect the city will make it through the rest of this winter with no significant ice-related outages.

You’re welcome.

Seeing is believing, but if believing required seeing we would have no churches.

When you buy a car, you don’t require that the dealer take the car apart and demonstrate how each element of it functions before you believe it will drive.

Do you understand how your flat-screen TV works?

Your cellphone?

A colleague recently wrote about losing a relative to COVID-19. The relative had a terminal form of cancer, but COVID-19 quickly took away however many months she would have had left. My colleague wrote of her frustration about people refusing to wear masks, which studies conducted during the months of the pandemic have proven can sharply limit the spread of the virus.

But one line she wrote about why people find it difficult to stick with the strict precautions that public health officials call for caught me short: “I know it’s hard. The last eight months have felt like a dystopian hellscape, our sense of reality warped by a disaster in slow motion.”

I told her I thought the reason it has been difficult is exactly the opposite – the world does not appear to be a hellscape or a disaster. If we went outside and brimstone were falling from the sky, we’d go back in to get our asbestos umbrella – “The scientists say we’ll catch fire if we don’t keep an asbestos umbrella with us at all times!”

The reason it’s hard to get people to change their behavior from what they were doing every day until this past spring is that everything looks exactly the same as it did a year ago. Unless you personally have known people who suffered extreme complications from COVID-19, the danger of the disease can seem remote. It’s hard to keep up your guard day after day when nothing happens to you.

A recent letter sent to The High Point Enterprise questioning whether the pandemic continues to rage through society said, “Doesn’t the definition of ‘pandemic’ include ‘excessive deaths’? I’ve yet to see bodies stacked on the roadsides.”

It is statistically evident that the United States is seeing “excess deaths” (that’s the term to Google). The number of deaths from all causes each year normally falls into a certain limited range, but a research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in October reported that from March 1 to Aug. 1 the number of deaths in the U.S. was 20% higher than that normal range – that’s more than 225,000, of which only 150,000 officially had been attributed to COVID-19.

And you don’t have to look far to find recent news stories documenting the toll that the current surge in virus-related hospitalizations is taking on health care workers across the country – but unless those workers are part of your immediate family, you do have to choose to look.

Among the statistics that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services publishes on its website, and updates every day, is the number of state residents hospitalized for COVID-19. Many county health departments, including Guilford’s, do the same. On Friday, 166 Guilford residents were hospitalized.

But the bodies are not stacked by the roadside.

Perhaps if this pandemic were like the 1918 Spanish flu, and one of the groups hardest hit was young children, there wouldn’t be so many skeptics. The emotional wounds would be more open and raw and distributed across the population.

No one would demand to see children’s bodies stacked like cordwood before believing there was a problem.

No one would think of suggesting that the deaths of a few hundred-thousand children was acceptable, as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested in the spring about the deaths of seniors from COVID-19: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’”

But, at least so far as we know in the less than one year scientists have had to study the disease, COVID-19 does not have serious effects on most children.

In fact, most adults who are infected feel no effects or have mild symptoms, and even most infected seniors recover.

The issue, though, has never been that you personally were likely to die if you caught this disease. If that were the only risk, you would be well within your rights to not wear a mask and even to offer to deep-kiss any willing stranger.

But with this highly infectious disease, when you are infected you may not know it, so if you take minimal or no precautions, you easily infect other people. They then infect other people, and so on, and so on, and eventually the virus reaches someone whose health is fragile, but you will never see it. All you see is that the number of deaths went up yesterday, and you don’t believe you could have had anything to do with that.


A reader called me this past week and asked in an exasperated tone why the newspaper hadn’t run a story about a statement the Pentagon issued to the New York Times for a story that ran July 31 essentially confirming that at least some identified flying objects are alien crafts from another world.

“Why isn’t everyone talking about this?” he said.

He had learned about the Times story from a friend.

A quick Google search indeed turned up stories reacting to the Times report and indicating that the Pentagon task force investigating UFOs would be publicly releasing information that might confirm the existence of aliens.

This is how a story from the Fox TV Digital Team put it:

“Now, the New York Times is reporting that the secretive task force is expected to release new and alarming findings that may involve vehicles made of materials not of this planet.”

The Independent in England said this:

“A Pentagon UFO unit will make some investigations public as ex-advisors suggest that ‘vehicles not made on this earth’ were placed in U.S. government storage.”

The problem with those stories is that what they say isn’t what the New York Times story said. Rather, they read between the lines and juice the elements of the story most likely to catch people’s attention – a common flaw of our internet age. They strongly suggest facts that are not in evidence.

There is a term for that: clickbait. They just want as many people as possible to click on a headline and share it.

The Times story by reporters Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean, which was posted online July 23 (not the 31st), actually said that the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force is focused on “discovering whether another nation, especially any potential adversary, is using breakout aviation technology that could threaten the United States,” and the story contained a suggestion that the unidentified aircraft might be highly advanced drones.

That would make sense because the limits on aircraft maneuverability in many cases are human limits. The human body can’t cope with the extremes of acceleration and high-speed changes in direction that aviation technology is capable of.

And there was no Pentagon statement confirming anything. Notably, the second sentence of the story began, “Pentagon officials will not discuss the program.”

However, the Times story does include a few people who openly say they think at least some UFOs may be of alien origin.

The Pentagon program’s previous director, Luis Elizondo, a former military intelligence official who resigned in October 2017, “is among a small group of former government officials and scientists with security clearances who, without presenting physical proof, say they are convinced that objects of undetermined origin have crashed on earth with materials retrieved for study,” it said.

And Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who the story said worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the UFO program since 2007, is quoted as saying that in some cases examination of recovered crash materials had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, “We couldn’t make it ourselves.”

But the story also includes a couple of reminders that just because right at a certain moment you can’t tell how something could have been made doesn’t mean that nowhere in the world could there be anyone who has figured it out:

“In some cases, earthly explanations have been found for previously unexplained incidents. Even lacking a plausible terrestrial explanation does not make an extraterrestrial one the most likely, astrophysicists say. …

“No crash artifacts have been publicly produced for independent verification. Some retrieved objects, such as unusual metallic fragments, were later identified from laboratory studies as man-made.”

A correction attached to the story and dated July 24 shows that the original version of the story more strongly stoked speculation about aliens:

“An earlier version of this article inaccurately rendered remarks attributed to Harry Reid, the retired Senate majority leader from Nevada. Mr. Reid said he believed that crashes of objects of unknown origin may have occurred and that retrieved materials should be studied; he did not say that crashes had occurred and that retrieved materials had been studied secretly for decades. “

Whatever the truth is, there will be additional stories to come, prompted by public releases from the Pentagon’s task force. Again, from the Times: A Senate committee report in June outlining spending on the nation’s intelligence agencies for the coming year “said the program … was to report at least some of its findings to the public within 180 days after passage of the intelligence authorization act.”

In short, the reason no one reported the government’s confirmation that aliens exist is because the government didn’t do that.

Maybe in the coming months or years it will. But it hasn’t yet.

Life advice: At some point as you get older, you should not try to lift a lawnmower by yourself.

Apparently I passed that point sometime in the past year.

When I needed to take the mower in for service last summer, I hoisted it solo into the back of my SUV without any trouble.

But last weekend, I hoisted the mower solo to drive it from Lenoir to mow the incipient meadow in the front yard of the house my wife and I bought in High Point two weeks ago.

This time, there was some trouble.

As I lifted the mower I felt a muscle in my back complain. I don’t speak fluent muscle, but the complaint seemed something along the lines of, “I’m too old for this crap and I’m done.”

I got the mower into the SUV, but the rest of the packing I had to do without the help of that muscle.

I coughed, and the muscle threatened me.

Almost every step I took, the muscle grumbled.

And the muscle continued grumbling during the nearly two-hour drive to High Point.

As the day turned to evening, the muscle stiffened its resolve, meaning it not only wouldn’t help me move around the house but it fought me. I walked like the old people in the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched in my childhood – bent over, holding one hand on my back. If I’d had a cane or walking stick, it would have been helpful.

Finally, I went to bed and was able to sleep – for a while. But the muscle’s constant complaints woke me.

And because our house in Lenoir has not yet sold, we barely have any furniture, and the muscle refused to help me rise from the mattress on the floor. Once I rose, I could not bend over to pick up my socks.

It was a work stoppage. A boycott.

Somehow I got myself showered and dressed for work.

The muscle grew more cooperative as the day went, ceasing the boycott, and we are back on speaking terms again.

But I’m worried.

For now, we are splitting our time between High Point and Lenoir. The grass in both places refuses my request to temporarily stop growing. There may be more mower transport yet to be done. I won’t try to lift it on my own again, but what if the muscle balks anyway? What if there’s another boycott?

Looking ahead, there’s a larger worry. I’m not getting any younger, and what if the muscle has sympathizers? Next time more than one muscle might boycott.

My entire body might unionize and demand better working conditions – i.e., no more working conditions.

That would be unacceptable. I might have to hire some union-busting goons. Things could get ugly. There might be violence. I’d be caught in the middle, literally. Any blood that would be spilled would be mine.

Everyone tells you it sucks getting old.

No one says you will find yourself quietly negotiating a careful labor agreement with your own muscles just to keep walking upright.

Some people change residences frequently, not only renters but home buyers. A woman once told my mother she never lives in a house longer than three years “because then you have to clean it.”

Then there’s my wife, Jane, who hates moving. Early in our marriage she declared that the next people who moved her would be a local funeral home.

We are now in the middle of buying and selling a house for the third time in the 21 years we have been married.

When we moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 2001, the only thing about the house-hunting process that had changed since I first bought a house as a bachelor four years earlier was the advent of online listings.

When we moved to Lenoir in 2013, the one new wrinkle was the ability to digitally “sign” all the sales documents needed in Virginia while we were on a computer in Lenoir.

But now?

The process of buying and selling a house — each separately but especially both together — has been transformed into a nightmare of text messages, emails and automated phone calls, all of which seem to be added onto instead of replacing the regular calls and emails that previously went between a buyer/seller and the real estate agent.

The day our house went on the market, my phone “blew up.” I had heard other people use that phrase, but I had no firsthand experience. My phone had never done it before. But, boy howdy, now I have experience.

Each time someone wanted to schedule a showing, I received both a text and an email requesting confirmation.

If no one confirmed it quickly, I received a phone call asking about it.

Once the showing was confirmed, I received both a text and an email showing it had been confirmed.

When an agent rescheduled, the entire cycle repeated. If someone canceled, there was another round of texts and emails.

After each showing, we received texts and emails showing the “feedback” provided by the agent for the person who saw the house, which usually was an email mostly full of questions that had not been answered.

On the house-buying end, we both receive automated emails requesting various documents, and if a couple of days pass we get reminders that we have not provided particular documents.

Our agent uses a website that tracks all the tasks that must be completed by either her or us, and each time she writes in that a task has been completed we get emails telling us that she has updated the timeline. The timeline is a wonderful tool, and I applaud it, but it’s yet another series of notifications that trigger my phone to buzz or bong or hum.

All of this piles stress on top of the ordinary stresses of moving plus the added anxiety of a worldwide pandemic.

If Jane and I live to complete the move to High Point, I feel certain she will not declare this time that the next people who move her will be a funeral home.

Mine will be the body they will carry out because she will kill me if I ever want to move again.