Jim:

There's an old saying: "They treat me like a mushroom. They keep me in the dark and feed me B.S." I know I'm a mushroom and hope that, at least, I may be a Portobello.

First off, there's the cosmic mystery. Where did the universe come from? If it's expanding, what is it expanding into? These questions give me butterflies in my stomach. I try hard never to think about them. I have butterflies right now. Let's change the subject.

I can't wrap my mind around the national debt. How can the U.S. owe so much money and not just collapse? More importantly - since this is all about me - will Uncle Sam keep up those Social Security payments?

Similarly, will my lifetime savings still be around when it's the only thing between me and living on a chancy Social Security check? Radio and TV commentators say things such as, "Wall Street was nervous today about the possibility of war in Syria," or "Traders were bullish today on news that unemployment is down and consumer spending is up." My financial advisor assures me that the long-term trend in stocks has always been up.

Then, along came 2008 and we learned that financial pirates had packaged sub-prime mortgages into big bundles on the theory that zero times zero equals wealth. Well, from what I've read, it did equal wealth - enormous wealth - for many of them, while some of their companies and a lot of working class slobs such as myself saw their retirement funds tank.

I don't get diplomacy and politics either. Secretary of State Colin Powell, an American war hero, went to the United Nations and assured the world - including all of us - that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. President George Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and assured us the war in Iraq would be over in six months. Ten years and billions of taxpayer dollars later, we are almost out of Iraq. Halliburton, where (incidentally) Dick Cheney made many of his millions, has pocketed many of those billions. What a coincidence.

Now the guy we elected and reelected to get us out of the Middle East is looking to start war on yet another front over there. What's that all about? I know that when presidents are in a pickle on the home front, they often travel abroad to take the spotlight off their pickle.

With a budget fight looming on Capital Hill and the tea drinkers threatening to starve Obamacare of funding, maybe Barack is using the Syria thing to make us all - including Congress - look at the hand that doesn't hide the little red ball. Hocus pocus.

Or maybe the threat of bombing was just what was needed to get the Russians and Syrians to pay attention and start talking about giving up those nasty, illegal chemical weapons. Clever puss, that Obama, eh?

But I'm darned if I know. Down here in the dark, damp soil, this mushroom can only hope that, to paraphrase Lincoln, God loves us poor Portobellos.

Claire:

I'm still trying to figure out why my dog likes to sleep under the couch, when every single day he inevitably gets stuck there and panics until I pull him out.

I don't know how to keep plants alive - is there some cosmic secret I'm missing out on? - but by some miracle my aforementioned dog is still kicking. He barks at walls for no apparent reason, though, so I may not be doing as well on that front as I imagine.

I still get lost driving, and occasionally walking, around Philadelphia even though the city is organized on a grid. City living is a constant array of conundrums.

I have yet to figure out a solution for the fact that the city dump won't allow U-Haul trucks in, because they are considered "commercial vehicles," but the only way I can think of to get rid of all my old furniture is to rent a U-Haul and fill 'er up.

And I still can't figure out whether or not I should say "hi" when I see one of my neighbors over our awkwardly eye-level patio wall.

I can't for the life of me understand why I've never met a man who can properly roll a bag of cereal so it won't get stale. Why is this something only men can't seem to accomplish? I don't remember my mother ever taking me aside and explaining the intricacies of this simple act, but she must have.

I have no idea how I'd ever do my taxes without hiring someone to help me. (No, TurboTax is not a viable option for those who are self-employed! It's just not.) If all the accountants were wiped off the planet tomorrow, I'd call up the IRS immediately and tell them to just arrest me now, get it over with.

I may be self-employed, but my boss is kind of an idiot when it comes to business management.

I don't know who made tiramisu-baking a requirement in home ec and decided to leave real life skills out of the mix, but I'd like a word with that person.

There's no possible explanation for why reality television is so undeniably repugnant, and yet so very addictive - but it does explain a lot about the state of the world around me. I mean, these are the mysteries of my universe, and possibly why we're all in a bit of trouble.