Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Year of Blessings

Another calendar year has come to an end. I preface year with calendar because every moment of every day is the end of another year (you really think about it).

We say it's year 2009 (for a few more hours) because we are basing our calculation upon a fixed point in time. (An incorrect fixed point in time, by the way.) It turns out whoever set up our calendar originally got the start point wrong by up to three years. And then, nobody took into account the fact that a year isn't exactly 365-days until over a thousand years had passed. So it's all guesswork.

But other calendars use different fixed points in time and so come up with other years. Isn't there one calendar in the 20,000s now?

My point is that all year ends are artificial, created by one or more people establishing a fixed point in time. Most people in the world are now using the same calendar and so the year is 2009 - ending. And for several hundred years that has worked well enough.

You know, though, I don't believe I've ever read anything in which the people preceding the beginning of our calendar ever referred to a year as a number. They seemed to think about years with regard to a significant event. The Year of the Great Flood. The Year of the Locusts (hey, that would make a good book, I bet [smiles]). The Year of the Drought. And so on. People didn't seem to count years beyond knowing how old they were.

Personally, I am ending 2009 a bit worse off than I ended 2008. That has been the pattern for several years now. Perhaps it has been the pattern all my life, but when I was so much better off I never noticed it. Now, any adjustment, good or bad, is keenly felt.

Despite this "lowering of station" I have experienced (and Spouse and Son, too, by reason of their affiliation with me), I must say that 2009 was mostly a happy year in my memory.

Surprised I wrote that? Yes, I know. I write a lot of self-pitiful stuff. And I whine more than most about my situation. But that's just my way of expressing an emotion out of my system. And when I speak sarcastically about myself, I really am laughing at myself, despite what you may think. I DO laugh a lot more than my writing would imply.

Early in the year I got the feeling that something significant would happen at summer's end. I was convinced this "something significant" was something of great benefit. If it happened then the benefit has eluded me. The most significant thing that happened at summer's end was we lost the house. But that was followed immediately by me writing three novels in less than 90 days. I don't know that either of those things qualify as a fulfillment of my feeling. Maybe something happened I'm unaware of.

But this year has been especially good to me while attempting to bring me low. What am I thankful for?
  • My best friend. Without a doubt this has been my most precious gift of 2009. I have not had a best friend since Stephen died. Many are the days I am nearly brought to tears with the joy of knowing my friend is there. Still. And on top of that, I have made other friends this year, too. They can't all be best. How did the song go? If everybody's somebody - then no one's anybody.
  • A new creative outlet for my writing. I found myself writing more about women this year, and I have enjoyed it beyond explaining. I have truly opened a part of myself I never knew was there. And I like what I'm finding.
  • I have enjoyed my most prolific year ever in writing. Just a few thousand words short of 1,000,000-words. I started and finished five (5) novels. In fact, I wrote a complete novel in September, October, and again in November (after I abandoned NaNoWriMo).
  • While not at all healthy, I am still here with my family.
  • I have discovered there are certain family members who's proclamations of love go far beyond words.
  • I have discovered I care a LOT more about people than I do about rules. I realize this puts me at odds with a lot of other Christians, but I am not firmly convinced I understand what God meant when he told us through the Apostle Peter, "Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8 Revised Standard Version
  • While I can't do it right now, I know what I want to do with my life. It's just a matter of finding and recognizing the opportunity when it comes. (Tied with that is the understanding of how to create the opportunity to find.)
  • Son has discovered his first best talent is in music. He now owns his own saxophone. Whatever it cost us to get it, it was worth it.
Certainly, I could go on. And on. And on. Despite losing the house. Despite poor health. Despite the stresses we have faced in our home. I think it has been a good year. And I am truly grateful.

I am also grateful to those of you who come to read what I write. I realize the posts on this blog are hardly informative or inspirational, but you come anyway. Thank you.

I hope your year has ended well for you.

God bless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Have a a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tis the Season

Okay, so I did attend an extended family function on Sunday. My mother hosted a Christmas get together at her place. She lives in a 3-floor retirement community. She was able to reserve the common room for about three hours.

Spouse had to work, but Son and I attended. For the most part it was all right. Spent a lot of time sitting with nothing to do and no one to talk with. I'm just not aggressive that way. The older I get the less I figure anyone wants to talk with me, so I virtually never interject myself, other than to say hello. Especially with people I have not seen in a long time.

My aunt and uncle I have not seen since last winter, when mother had cancer surgery. My one niece I saw last spring, and I saw my sister just a week ago. Other than that it's been years. Some of the young ones I have never seen.

My nephew's wife came up to Son and me and told Son she didn't think he remembered her. She could have said that about me, too. I hadn't a clue who she was until she told Son.

When we left Son made an interesting comment.

"Why is everyone in our family fat? Including the children?"

Well, everyone is a bit of an exaggeration. I did a tally. Only two out of three. My younger sister's family are all acceptably thin, and my brother's youngest son is downright skinny. So those seven were not fat. And Son is not fat. And there was another little boy who was not fat. But the rest of us? Yeah, I'm afraid so.

It wasn't that way forty years ago. Then, the ratio was at least reversed. It may even have been greater in favor of thin and skinny. Times have changed. So have lifestyles.

But now it is time for our Christmas season. Son gets off school in a few minutes and does not have to return until January. He's looking forward to that. I have mixed feelings about it. His being around means a lot less time on the computer for me, and even less writing.

Oh, well. I like having Son about. Mostly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Morticia is Gone

There are two main downers to getting older. One is one's own health. It is inevitable that one's body deteriorates as one ages. Arthritis. Muscle aches. Stomach issues. More weight and less hair.

The other downer is the disappearance of familiar faces.

We like to watch old movies and old television shows. Right now we're watching Hogan's Heroes. At least four of the main characters are dead: Hogan, Schultz, Klink and Burkholder. I think there are others gone, too.

One of my favorite shows was Addams Family. Morticia, Lurch, Uncle Fester and Grandmama are all gone.

We recently had some Gilligan's Island episodes from the library. The Howell's are gone. So are Skipper and Gilligan.

There aren't many entertainers left from the 60s and 70s, and fewer still are actively entertaining. It makes one feel old.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tree Farming

My first job away from home was working at a tree farm. I got the job through a classmate, who told me they would hire anybody. Not sure what I was being told beyond an available job, but I went and worked.

Back at that time places like tree farms often hired what was known as ‘casual labor’. All you needed to work was a social security number so they could send in the FICA taxes. There were no interviews. Everyone who showed up by seven o’clock got to work. Show up late and you probably wouldn’t, as all of the crews would have already left.

Pay Day was whenever you wanted it. Some worked all day and took their pay upon leaving. Others took their pay once or twice a week, as they needed the money. Perhaps there were a few who delayed more than a week, but these would be rare.

There were two groups of people who worked this particular tree farm. The one group consisted of school age workers from high school or college, collecting money over the summer holiday, or on weekends during the school year. The other group consisted of middle aged men. Many of these looked like men who were solely interested in acquiring enough money for another bottle of wine, or whatever.

If I remember correctly, the pay was $1.50 per hour. You had your crew foreman fill out your hours at the end of the day and then turned in the card, stating whether you wished to be paid or wait.

There were several types of crews, but I was only ever assigned to two. One truly s*cked. That consisted of standing out in the hot sun hoeing and plucking weeds from around small seedlings. We were put on a large wagon and towed out to the fields and dropped off at various places in twos and fours. Even for me, who prefers hot and humid days to any other, standing in a field without any shade was wearing. The only drink was what one had in their thermos. Bathrooms were the hedge rows, kept to prevent wind and rain erosion. The second crew shift was better in most ways, but it was also a bit more dangerous. It was the Pole Plant.

The Pole Plant was where they took trees which had grown too thick to sell anymore, stripped them of their branches, and then ran them through a de-barker to create fence posts. There were various stations here, including removing the branches, hauling trees to be de-branched, de-barking trees, and hauling posts. The hauling jobs required knowledge of construction equipment. I never got to do that. Neither did I get to do de-branching. I worked in the de-barking area.

This was nice in that it was under a roof, allowing the work to continue in rain and snow. It was not nice in that it was an assembly line which never stopped until lunch and the end of the day. There were four positions, and only the two end got to rotate. Position One was the machine operator. Position Two worked at helping the machine operator feed the tree trunk into the lathe type thing. Position Three kept the tree trunk straight and went around to collect the post and toss it on the completed pile. The final position, Position Four, grabbed the next tree trunk and put it on the conveyor belt and made sure the end didn’t swing about and kill someone. It wasn’t easy and required a strong hand. Being the largest person on the line meant I usually got this job.

The job was not entirely safe. Relax your hold on the end and it just might swing up and cave in your head. I found that out early on, being fortunate enough to only get smacked in the chest. An advantage of being tall I guess. Still, it hurt, and the line had to be shut down until I was able to get back on my feet. Nobody felt sorry for me, though. They were angry with me for risking their lives by being stupid.

There was a second danger to this position which I had not been warned about. Not having a lot of money I was not able to afford the nice leather gloves that everyone else had. So I had thick, woolen, gloves such as farmers used to use. After only two hours of holding trunks being spun down the conveyor belt the gloves began wearing through. They had holes in them. And every so often they would catch on a knot, or piece of bark. This was not a really big deal until one glove got caught especially tight. My entire arm was being pulled over and down as the trunk spun in a circle. I shouted, but the machine made more noise than a classroom filled with kindergartners. No one heard me. I had only a few seconds before my arm was bent in a manner not meant by nature. I pulled with all my strength.

It’s a scary thing, being pitted in a battle of strength with a mindless machine operating with endless power. I sometimes find myself wondering what would have happened had I been a smaller person. But although I wasn’t fat yet, I was very large. And very strong. For just a brief moment I managed to stop the turning. But whereas the machine could exert constant pressure, I could not. And when I was forced to relax the turning began again. So I pulled in a jerk motion and my hand came free. Without the glove. That went around and I managed to pluck it off when it came back.

I had to spend the rest of the day doing my job with one glove with holes in it. Within the next hour I had no gloves. I finished the day with blistered hands. I didn’t go back.

I think about that job now and realize that I now belong to the wino group, despite the fact I cannot imbibe alcohol. It’s work I couldn’t do anymore. Not that it matters. That tree farm hasn’t existed for a good many years.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Countdown

Time again for shameless self-promotion. I realize it’s in bad form, but I figure, what the h*ll. It’s my blog. If I’m not going to promote myself then why have it?

Christmas is a time for nostalgic thinking and feelings. We remember what it was like to be young and sitting before the tree waiting for the go-ahead to begin presents.

In our house Daddy handed out presents. Nobody else. After a few years, when I was older (and so was Daddy) I helped by crawling under the tree to get the hard to reach presents. Also, Daddy would hand me the presents to hand to those who weren’t sitting within easy reach. That way he didn’t have to crawl all over the floor. When Helvie got older she helped, too. I didn’t like that. I liked it when it was just Daddy and me.

We were poor, but things cost pennies in those days. For $5 my parents could buy six presents for every child (there were seven of us, and although Ranlen was up north he still had presents under the tree). Every year one child would be picked to get a special Christmas. Their presents cost a bit more than the others, but they didn’t get so many either. But we often had both sets of grandparents and Aunt Cile with us. And sometimes another aunt and/or uncle. We could have as many as fifteen or twenty people there. And with each person getting at least five presents, that meant a lot of presents under the tree. But think of this: seventy presents for less than $200. That’s what we were able to do back in the 60s.

So what has all of that to do with shameless self-promotion? Uh, nothing. I got off on a tangent. I think I’ll stay here and save the self-promotion for another post. You don’t mind. Right?

In The Old House, we had that giant living room (25’ x 15’) with the 12’ ceilings. This meant we could have very large trees – which we did. They cost nothing, so why not? While hunting up north Daddy and Alfred would go out into the forest, find a tall white pine, cut it off at eight to ten feet off the ground, and that would be our Christmas tree. They only guessed at the height, and twice we had to shorten it to fit in the living room. But they were wide. Quite able to hold all of the presents beneath.

We had blinking lights, but they didn’t flash on and off. When I say ‘blinking lights’ I mean blinking lights. As in, why don’t the d*mn things work this year? Now we have to find the one bulb that is keeping the others from lighting.

There was nothing more magical to me than to sit before a 12’ decorated Christmas tree with a monstrous pile of presents beneath. Never mind that only a handful were for me. Never mind that nearly every present I got cost less than a dollar. Maybe two. Except, every so often, when it was my turn to get the special Christmas.

I realize that Christmas, as a concept, is about the birth of Jesus, but let’s be real. It’s one thing to know that (we all do, right), but it’s quite another to see it as the primary focus of the season. Christmas is for children. Even Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” There is nothing wrong with Christmas being a season for children. Personally, I think it far better to keep Christmas for children (and we all have a child in us some place, right?) and the entire year for God, rather than the other way around. I am aware that Christmas is the time when we acknowledge the birth of Jesus. But even as a Christian, I have to admit, when I think of Christmas I think of children sitting before a decorated tree with presents beneath. It’s a magical time. Anything could be in those packages. Even when you knew it couldn’t. But it is a wonderful time for believing. And speaking for myself, I need that more than anything.

There. That was much better than what I was going to talk about.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Season

2nd UPDATE: I deleted the original post. It's what I wanted to say, but not the way I wanted to say it. So I'll just leave the first update.

UPDATE: I just thought of something my sister told me. My niece is now a proud mother of two bright and wonderful children. Her daughter, a second grader, was with her in the car listening to Christmas music when the verse, "It's the most wonderful time of the year" came caroling through the car. With complete innocence my great-niece asked her mother, "Mommy, is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?" In true fashion, proving she is indeed descended from my parents, my niece replied, "No, dear. That's just a song. The most wonderful time of the year is summer."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Are You Ready For Winter

My family has a history of having a wild, and often times extreme, sense of humor. In recent years I have tended to fade away from some of the more extreme amusements, although I am still a fair hand at one-liner responses to straight lines.

But I was never a master at practical jokes and things like that. That honor goes to my brother Mickey and sister Judayl. They loved (and still do) to make elaborate plans for the sole purpose of making someone look foolish. Sometimes they have been the butt of these things, but it's not easy to get a master. Which is why I feel especially proud of having achieved the greatest family joke against Judayl. But that's a different story. In fact, I think I've already posted it. Can't remember.

Anyway, practical jokes are one way my family tells people they are accepted. Generally we do not joke people we don't care about. Those people we merely insult. Unfortunately, sometimes it's difficult to distinguish insults from jokes. That's just the way it is.

A good number of years ago now Judayl was working in an office. It was fall. October or November. A new employee had just arrived from Southern California, where he had spent his entire life up to then. Living in the hot, dry, desert he had no concept of Minnesota's trees, lakes, and weather. But he had heard things. So he questioned Judayl and her co-workers.

What he was interested in was his car. He had heard rumors that Minnesotans did things to their cars before winter. What did they do? Why? It was Friday and he hoped to resolve this over the weekend.

So Judayl very calmly, rationally, and without so much as a grin, explained to him that winter air is different than summer air, and that Minnesotans bring their cars in to have the air in their tires changed around October or November. This will prevent flat tires when it gets very cold. All he had to do was go to any garage and tell the mechanic he needed to have winter air put into his tires. It wasn't expensive and didn't take long.

On Monday morning Judayl and her comrades felt bad about the joke. Yes, it was funny, but the truth is there ARE things that Minnesotans do to their cars in October and November, and they HAVE to be done. They decided they had best let him know what those were so his car didn't get damaged.

He came in sullen and didn't say hello to anyone. Judayl and the other went to him and apologized about the air in the tires thing (yes, he had gone to a garage and asked for winter air), but they were ready to give him truth now. What he had to do was bring his car to any garage and have them change the oil from summer weight oil to winter weight oil. Also, he needed to make sure his radiator had fresh antifreeze in it.

It was a case of Fool Me Once, Shame On You. He got very angry with them and told them he wasn't going to fall for the same joke twice.

At first Judayl and the others continued to feel bad. Then, of course, they found it extremely funny.

I don't know if the man got his car winterized in time or not. I suspect he did. Hope so.

But that is the kind of humor my family likes to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Out of the Way!

There are roughly 72-units in the apartment complex we live in. Mostly 2-bedroom units, but a few one and three bedrooms, too.

Every month there seems to be a big turnaround with units. People come. People go. Some very quickly.

Recently, someone moved in who is quite noisy. We became alerted to their presence by the sound of running feet down the hallway. The complex is shaped like an "L" and we live on the top floor of the inner corner, so we could hear the running the full length of both lines. Our assumption was at least three, maybe as many as five, children. The other day I learned for certain.

I was climbing the stairs to third floor. This is a process for me. As I neared the top I could hear the stampede coming down the hallway. The entire clan was on its way. I hurried to reach the top so I would not be bowled over and sent down the stairs again. Not only would this likely result in injury, but I would still have to make the interminable climb again. I made it just as the source of the noise swept around the corner to go down the stairs.

Was it a pack of teenagers? No.

A gaggle of rambunctious boys? No.

A girl scout troop? No.

To my utter amazement a single little elf child swept around the corner and nearly bowled me over. Panting heavily, she only gave me a glance as she hurried down the stairs to seek out the candy machines on first floor. The noise followed her.

She couldn't have been older than five or six. Three feet tall and maybe thirty or forty pounds. Her entire person didn't seem much larger than the palm of my hand. But she could really make the noise.

The energy of youth, I guess. But now when I hear the stampede echoing down the hallway my mind envisions this tiny little elf child stomping with glee, completely oblivious to the meaning of living in this place. Ignorance really is bliss. I'm glad someone around here is having fun.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Combining Highs

So I was talking with Son last night while we tried watching Polar Express. I say tried watching because we have this wonderful television-dvd combo that we got a number of years ago and the d*mn thing works like cr*p. Nearly every movie freezes up on us before we can get all the way through. I know it isn't the discs because those work on the computer. But the computer monitor is older than the television and night scenes are like - black.

But anyway, for some reason I was reminded of going to a cartoon festival way back in the 70s. Chris invited me, which I found odd at the time as Chris never struck me as a cartoon kind of guy.

We arrived early in Chris's new car. It was one of the earliest models to have automatic shut off of head lamps. Chris took special pains to leave his lights on. Then, while we stood in line, he waited for someone to notice. I was amazed at how long it took for anyone to notice. That is, until I realized that nearly everyone in line was a dead head drug user. Not the heavy duty stuff. I don't think. Not that night anyway. But a LOT of marijuana.

Time is running out. Chris is calculating there are only a few seconds left. Finally some guy sees the car and starts trying to get everyone's attention. But by the time he can, the automatic shut off has kicked in and the lights are off. He does one of the biggest double takes I have ever seen. Might have swore off the drugs after that. Probably not.

I remember a lot of what we saw, but only one title. What sticks out most vividly in my mind is that that night was the first time I ever smelled marijuana. We were sitting down near the front. I had the aisle seat. That way Chris had to sit next to the high guy. All of a sudden there is this - smell. Chris leans over to me.

Chris: Smell that?

Me: Yeah. What is that? Smells like someone lit the diaper pale on fire.

Chris: That's marijuna.

Me: You're kidding!

Chris: No. That's what it is.

Me: And people want to smoke that stuff? Why not just buy dirty diapers?

The auditorium was boisterous. That is putting it mildly. I was sitting there and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Then the first film began. LOW volume.

There were cries of "turn it up", but soon those were being replaced with "shut up, man". By the time the first cartoon was over it was quiet. At this point in time the projectionist turned up the volume. I was impressed.

The first film was simply a cartoon of some guy dancing across shapes and colors. Cool music. Bouncy. Then, at the end, the guy kind of fell off the world and floated. At this point someone from the middle of the auditorium calls out, "He's high, man!"

I enjoyed most of what we saw. There was the one with claymation. A couple of folk guitarists were in the mountains. Then, they began to transform into a rock band, playing psychadelic music. That one ended with the mountains turning into volcanoes.

Mostly the films were quite colorful. Chris explained to me that people on drugs really got into the bright colors and things. Helped them hallucinate or something. (I suppose you can tell I have never indulged. Too afraid of dying, or losing my brains. I had more than one friend die because of drugs.)

The only film title I remember is available on YouTube. It's a short, 1:30, animation. It's a classic. I called it up and showed Son, who knew of it, but had never seen it. Here it is. The one and only original:

And afterward we went and had pizza.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

We Had Fun

Stephen and I were born at the wrong time, I think. I should have been born a long time before. Perhaps several hundred years. Stephen should have been born later. Today's technology would suit him well.

Stephen wanted to make movies. He made a couple, but only one was any good. That was Fate. I worked with him on one real movie and two other films. But I was not able to corral Stephen's need to "just do it". When Stephen made Fate he was not officially in command. Aaron, who was already making some very good films with his brother, had been brought in to help, and Aaron kept the crew focused. Aaron made Stephen work with a script that actually had a plot.

I was only able to get Stephen to compromise when we made Falcon Man. We had a script. And we had a plot. But it didn't work well.

I think Stephen would love how easy it is for amateurs to make movies now. Video cameras are reasonably inexpensive and digital film means instant knowledge of whether a scene worked or not.

The year after we graduated from high school Stephen was at my apartment and saw one of those shields with the crossed swords behind it hanging on my wall. Being Stephen, he couldn't just leave it alone and he discovered one of the swords actually came out easily. Within minutes both swords came out. Now he wanted to make a film.

We dressed in some of our more rustic clothes and headed to the local dam. It was a small thing, spanning a small river. Still dangerous if one got too close, but we went to the low water side where Stephen knew of a wooded area. Randy was the camera man. That was what Randy liked doing best.

The idea was that Stephen and I would be medieval warriors engaged in a duel to the death.

We waded across the river, the water came up to Stephen's neck but only my chest. Randy had to walk holding the camera above his head.

Once on the island we did some choreography and rehearsals. Now we were ready. Randy started filming. Stephen came at me. He swung his sword and I blocked it. Now I swung mine and he raised his sword to block it. His sword broke in half. That thin aluminum just wasn't meant for stuff like this.

So much for our film.

I wonder what kind of films we would be making today were Stephen still here. With our track record I have to believe they wouldn't make it to either Cannes or Sundance. But we would have fun.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Consequtive Defeats

Being poor in America is an interesting experience. Did you know you can't file bankruptcy unless you have money? And if you don't file bankruptcy you can have your wages garnished. And if you have your wages garnished you don't have enough money to pay rent. And if you don't have enough money to pay rent you get kicked out of your place.

I have said for a long time that if there is a stupid decision to make regarding money, ask me what I choose to do and you'll know what it is. Four years ago, three years ago, two and even one year ago we had the money to file bankruptcy. But we didn't. I was of the mind that we should keep trying to pay down the bills. Be honorable. You know. But the plan failed and we ran out of money and now we don't have the money to pay our bills. Unfortunately, the banks don't give a rat's ass. Acknowledging that we never missed payments on anything for thirty years they conclude that because we have now we have suddenly decided to be dishonest.

So, what we SHOULD have done was take the money we used to pay down loans which ultimate never got paid off, and filed bankruptcy so we wouldn't have to pay off the loans and wouldn't have to worry about garnishment.

The trouble with us is that we always believe better times are coming. Even now. But we keep losing.

Remember the dead car battery? It won't hold a charge anymore. That's another $100. Only this time we don't have it. So the little car is just going to have to sit and wait for better times.

Better times are coming. Some are already experiencing them. The rest of us just have to wait a little longer. Just a little longer and everything will be all right.

It will.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

When You Wish Upon a Star

Do you know what I wish? If you do then there's no point in me going on. However, since there is no way for you to let me know at this moment in time I will assume you don't know what I wish and actually go forward with this post. But if you do know, then you need not read any further as you already know what this is about. Which is more than I know. I'm winging it.

Actually, I've been observing my teeter totter brain with all of its emotional influences. One moment I'm thinking about shutting down all of my blogs and quietly fading away into the oblivion from which I came. The next I have about a dozen ideas for new blogs. Left to itself I am not sure the brain can be trusted.

Do you know that I have ten blogs and five blogger accounts?

One of the blogger accounts doesn't actually have any blogs, and another has a blog, but I never post on it. A third account exists, but I seldom sign in, and the fourth is of a like kind.

Generally, when I blog, it is with this account: the Bevie account.

Which brings me to what I wish.

What I wish was that I could be logged into more than one account at the same time in Firefox, instead of having to open a session of Explorer (which often causes my computer to crash). I suppose I could achieve my goal by simply having multiple computers. Yeah, right. I don't even get that lucky in my dreams.

All of these blogs I have. So much to say. But nothing really worthwhile. Still, isn't that what blogs are for? They're a kind of public diary.

There are those who claim writers in particular should be careful about what they post. Writers are supposed to create an image through their blog which will inspire people to not only read their blog, but greatly desire to read their work. This will help them get published.

I don't do that. I don't try to cultivate any particular image for myself. Too neurotic for that. But I have to confess that, after reading about five or six of these articles and posts, I find myself thinking I mucked up in creating all of my blogs and posting as I have. But I can't be anything other than what I am, and if that means self-destruction then so be it. I don't necessarily like that, but I will accept it.

Some have told me that is one of my 'big' problems. I accept too much. Particularly the negative. Maybe so. Maybe so. But I have to say this in all honesty: When I see people behaving the way I am told I should behave I am not very impressed. There is a price to pay for what these people have, and it's more than I care to spend. There are things that matter to me, and I don't want to give them up just so other people can look at me and be impressed. The truth is, that's not going to happen anyway.

So, I return to my wish. Wouldn't it be great if I could log in to all five accounts at the same time, on the same computer? Probably not a good idea. God knows how many accounts and blogs I would have then. And none of them would be saying anything.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Don't Always Bring My Mind Along When I Go Places

I did something particularly brilliant last Saturday. Son and I went to St. Cloud in the morning, and when we returned I neglected to shut the door on the car. So what? you say. Well, the car was in a garage and I shut it in with the door open. So? I had no cause to drive that car until yesterday afternoon. Oh.

So, one minute before I am supposed to leave to bring Son home from school I have no vehicle. Not that it would be the end of the world if he had to walk back to the apartment, but he's expecting me to be at the school when he steps outside at 3:11 p.m. It is now 2:50 p.m.

There is really only one quick solution and I take it. I walk the one mile to the Outlet Mall where Spouse has parked the other car. I get in and drive to the school. I am only five minutes late. Reason? I always plan on arriving ten minutes early.

Upon returning to the apartment I used the working vehicle to jump start the other. Then Son and I brought the car back to the Outlet Mall and walked to the apartment from there. Not brilliant. What we should have done was wait until Spouse was off work and just drove there at that time. Wasn't thinking.

My legs still hurt from the short two mile walk. I know many of you walk further than that every day. I don't walk half that distance any day. My ankles hurt, especially in the front.

Today I tested the Eclipse again. No go. I didn't let the car run long enough and so the battery failed to charge.

I don't particularly enjoy being stupid. For one thing, having an exceptionally high I.Q. I find I am quite intolerant of myself when I am. And yet it seems I do more stupid things than people with half my I.Q. Why is that, I wonder? Clearly, I.Q. has nothing to do with being smart. I've said that all along. All I.Q. does is indicate the speed at which one learns. But if one fails to learn then I.Q. isn't worth diddly.

The good news is that it wasn't that long ago that I left the car lights on for an hour or two. The battery went dead after that, too. Batteries don't like it when people do these things to them. It doesn't take many times before they just decide to quit and not hold a charge at all. Then it's $100+ to buy a new one.

I don't really need that. But stupid does as stupid is.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What to Do When Times are Rough

Sitting here eating a plate of pretzels and the remains of a bag of ripple potato chips. Got an extra large bottle of refrigerated, filtered, water, too. Breakfast.

The chips are leftover from Son's snack time last night. The pretzels are leftovers from Spouse's work on Thanksgiving to the next day. Spouse worked from 9 p.m. Thursday until 5 a.m. Friday. All employees were told to bring in some sort of snack to see the staff through the night. (Interestingly, when Spouse worked at Old Navy the store supplied the food.) Anyway, there was so much food that only half the bag of pretzels was eaten. So Spouse brought the rest back here.

They're holiday pretzels, shaped like Christmas trees, bells and stars. Or maybe they're snowflakes. Kind of cute. I'm eating all of the broken pieces first. I like to do that. Eat the damaged pieces first and leave the whole pieces for last. That way it's not so depressing when the bowl, plate, bag, is nearly empty. Same for chips, although finding whole chips in a bag is not easy.

Maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me potato chips used to be larger. I suppose that's a sign of age. Everything was better in the 'olden days'. When I was very young it never occurred to me that I was living in the 'olden days'.

Spoke with my mother over the weekend. Couldn't reach her on Thanksgiving Day. Either she was taking a nap or was down in the community room. But she mentioned how my sister, Judayl, had called and they were talking about life in The Old House. Judayl said it wasn't all bad. She remembered lots of good times. Times we laughed anyway.

That's true. Everyone in my family can complain with the best of 'em. Or worst, depending on one's point of view. But we can laugh at pretty much anything, too. Even while we're complaining. I guess we just accept the the old adage: Life Sucks - And Then You Die.

My first job was at a pizza restaurant. The owner's son and I were good friends. He liked to pull out a bowl of lemons from the refrigerator and walk around the place saying, "Life is just a bowl of lemons."

The thing is, it is so true. Life really does suck. And then we die. But that doesn't mean we can't have laughs along the way. It's the lack of laughs, I think, that really makes people unpleasant. And I don't mean just laughing when things are going well. Any slob can do that. It's laughing when life really sucks. If you can do that you can survive to find the next good time island in the sea of disasters. It's what I find most wrong about Spouse's family. They cannot laugh at bad things. Bad things are serious, and they have to be treated serious. Both of those positions are true, but they leave out the fact that there is still humor. Grandma Amy was telling jokes while laying on her deathbed in immense pain. She referenced her last husband, who had died a few years earlier at the ate of ninety-something. She and the young nurse attending her got to talking about marriage relations for some reason and Grandma said of step-grandpa, "He still had a wiggle to his waggle." When the nurse told us what Grandma had said I saw Grandma smile. Twenty-four hours later Grandma would be gone.

It's okay to laugh and make fun of oneself when things are bad. Sometimes it's the only way to survive.

That, and a plate of Christmas pretzels, a leftover bag of ripple potato chips, and a bottle of filtered water. Maybe I'll open my last bottle of pop and really splurge. Son's been teasing me because the pop has been sitting in the back of the refrigerator for about a month or two. I told him I would drink it. When?


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

We do what we want to do and we find reasons why we have to do those things.

We avoid what we don't want to do and we find reasons why we can't do them.

What's funny is that the only people we fool are ourselves. I generally can see through the rationalizations of others fairly easily. And they seem to have no problem recognizing mine. And we call each other on it, pointing out the silliness of the rationalized argument.

In the minds of others our arguments are merely excuses. In my mind the arguments of others often fall into the same bag.

The problem, as I see it - and remember, I wear trifocals, so my vision can be quite blurry at times - is that we are taught that what we really want is never important, worthwhile, or something to be grasped at. Only evil and greedy people seek their selfish desires. Good and decent people only seek to satisfy others.


It's all lies. Why don't we just say what we want? Probably because we will be criticized for wanting it, and we can't stand that. Or, we fear we will be criticized.

I suppose that is part of the dissatisfaction so many bear toward me. The older I get the less disposed I am to hide what I want. When I am asked to come visit and say no, the only reason I give is that I don't want to come. I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed to say that I can't come. Of course the others will see right through my pitiful reason for not being able to come, but at least I didn't confront them with the truth that I just don't feel like it.

When I tell people I prefer to stay home now I am reprimanded for my selfishness. I should be thinking of others. Well, you know what? For nearly fifty years I did that. I always went when I wanted to stay home. I never pushed my desires ahead of others. They had a party, or get together, and I went. But when I had one, they stayed away in droves.

So as far as I'm concerned I paid the dues and got nothing in return. I was not happy for being at a place I did not want to be at. I got no reward for, being there, I as often as not wound up sitting alone, or merely observing. H*ll, I can do that at home.

Funny story (to me). And I swear that it's true.

When I went in for outpatient surgery on my arm (had lumps removed), while waiting for the surgeon I was listening to the snores of a man two stations down. A woman sat patiently at his bedside. Suddenly, with a snort, he woke up. Grumpy. He asked where his doctor was. She didn't know. He got up and began pacing and complaining. Finally, he said - and this is what I so love about the memory - "I didn't come to the hospital to be ignored. If I wanted to be ignored I could have stayed home." And with that he marched away.

Five minutes later a surgeon showed up and looked around. "Where's my patient?" "He left. Said he couldn't wait." And with that the surgeon took off screaming at the local nurses.

I know how that man felt. This holiday season I am not planning on doing any visiting. I don't want to.

Of course, that doesn't mean I won't. I talk big. H*ll, I am big. But as Carol used to say about me: You're just a big pussycat.

Sometimes cats will scratch. Usually when they're afraid.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I've Been Chicken Most of My Life

I grew up in rural Minnesota. Our place was the original homestead of what had once been a large and thriving farm. By the time we got there the farm had long since ceased to be farmed. The property had been divided and sold off. And the original owners were dead. My parents had five acres – three which stood dormant most of the time.

We inherited half of the out buildings. The people my parents had purchased (were purchasing) the property from had built next door and had the cow barn and the horse barn. We had the machine shed, the milk shed, and the root cellar. And the original house.

Being so far from town (ten miles to what could be the closest ‘city’) allowed us certain freedoms people in the city did not enjoy. One of these freedoms was the right – and ability – to raise chickens.

One spring my mother ordered one hundred little chickens. Alive. We originally put them in the porch area because they arrived before the snows had melted. Eventually, we would fix up the milk shed for them. Ultimately, those which were not killed by other means would become supper.

There were four “other means” for our chickens to die. One of our dogs liked to kill them. Crazy Charlie, who mother refused to accept as a guilty party until he attacked her. He was her dog and she had defended him mightily. But the day after he tried to bite her he was dead. Don’t piss off my mother.

The second way was wild animals. Mostly hawks and owls. We were rural, but there were enough properties that fox and such stayed away. Too many dogs. But birds didn’t care about dogs. A few learned they should have cared about Crazy Charlie, who had learned how to take a bird down out of the air. I saw it done. Most impressive. Especially when you realize he had to teach himself the trick.

The third way was the neighbor boys. Three of them. They sat in a treehouse with B-B- guns and shot about fifteen before my sister Gayanne caught them. That became a messy scene with the police and everything.

And then there was the fourth way. A most unexpected way to die, I thought. At least, I thought so at first. By the time the chickens were all gone I had learned something about chickens. And about people, I think.

You see, the chickens would find the current weakest chicken in the flock – and peck the poor thing until it died. It would have few tail feathers because the stronger chickens had pulled them all off. It would be weak because whenever it tried to eat or drink the other chickens would come and harass it. I attempted to intervene on behalf of these poor creatures, but one can only be with a flock of chickens so long. When I wasn’t there it was constant harassment. Until it died. And then the hunt was on to discover the next in line.

The hawks and owls may have taken three. The dog got six. The neighbor boys got eight. The chickens themselves killed at least twenty. Of the one hundred we started with, we were only able to take a little more than 50% for ourselves. Maybe it didn’t matter. They were all doomed to die anyway. I don’t know.

But it has been my observation that people behave very much like chickens. Not each and every individual, but groups of people. And that is something else: A person may act one way when she (he) is by herself (himself). But put that same person in a group and you might see an entirely different behavior. Group mentality is powerful. It’s how riots are formed.

In school, at work, on ball teams, I have observed that there will be a ‘weakest’ member. And that member is going to be made fully aware that they are weakest. Many times this is in ‘good-natured fun’. But sometimes it can be quite cruel. I have seen people driven out of work for it. A friend of mine suffered a nervous breakdown.

It seems to be built into our nature to be a lot like chickens. We see weakness in someone else and we exploit it. We peck at them, keeping the wound open and alive, draining them of their capacity to heal and continue. They grow weaker and weaker and weaker, until they die. Sometimes for real, but always personally.

I thought of this when I read a posting by LaughingWolf. It’s interesting, and I have read and heard of things like this before. To be honest, I have also pulled my share of feathers throughout my life. But that was back when I was on the strong team. Now that my turn has come I am less disposed.

As a people we seem to have a hard time with charity. We can give money, food, and clothing. As we should. But at the same time we will mock and condemn the weak. They can easily become objects of our humor and our disdain.

We are not all that way, to be sure. In fact, not every chicken pecked at the weak. Like people, the chickens seemed to form their own ‘cliques’. That Gang Clique, as I used to think of them, was the one which actively sought out others to harass. Other cliques tended to be more passive, but did strike out should an ‘outsider’ approach. And then there were the loners. Some were tough, and even the Gang Clique left them alone. Most just went along, not bothering if another chicken came close.

I think people are like that. I also think that everything good – and bad – that a person can be and do is inside each of us. Various things in our makeup will cause us to turn one way or the other. Ultimately, we behave without thinking about it. That can be fine and good. But if we’re pulling feathers, perhaps not.

But sometimes it’s just hard to resist. Isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Just a couple of follow up points on the local food shelf.

I don't know how many people it serves but, as I wrote yesterday, I was about 100th in line when I arrived ten minutes after it opened. Today we got an inkling of the number when we cashed in the vouchers for a turkey and potatoes.

The potatoes are Minnesota potatoes. Normally, I prefer Idaho potatoes. All for Minnesota in most things, but Idaho produces a very fine potato. Minnesota potatoes are good. Just not as good as Idaho.

However, part of the process of getting the turkey and potatoes was signing something indicating the value. This exposed the food shelf's account balance to us. Spouse was the one who actually saw it, but the total was more than $14,000. Yes, that is a correct figure. Fourteen thousand dollars. I'm not clear is this is how much the food shelf has spent or how much it owes. Hope it's money spent. Otherwise the food shelf is in dire straits.

A manager had to come and show the cashier how to process the vouchers. We were her first customers with them. While we thanked the manager I told her my place in line. She was impressed, but then responded by saying more than one hundred people who signed up for the Thanksgiving meals did not show up. Either they forgot the food shelf was only open on Monday this week, had no transportation, or decided not to avail themselves of the charity after all. If the latter I hope it was because they are going to be with family or friends.

I expect we could go to relatives, but Spouse works Thanksgiving evening and most of the next day. The day of Thanksgiving is one of the two or three heaviest shopping days of the year. Besides, it costs money to travel. And I'm no longer keen on visiting relatives. Few were keen on me before we lost so much. They're even less disposed toward me now and I am not keen on going to their houses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Line Goes Ever On

So I'm just back from the food shelf with most of our Thanksgiving Day meal.

I arrived within ten minutes of when they opened. There could have been as many as 100 people ahead of me in line. I counted more than fifty before the line went around a corner. And within minutes of my arriving there were twenty to thirty behind me.

We came in all sizes, ages, and shapes. Fat. Thin. Tall. Short. Old. Young. Marrieds, Singles. Not sure.

Of course with so many people it was inevitable that we stand and wait. Now for most people that is simply one of life's necessary inconveniences. For me it's a little bit different. Not much. It's just that my body interprets standing as a major exercise. And so within fifteen minutes of arriving people are checking out the windows to see if it's been raining. The good news about this is that people don't tend to crowd too close.

Anyway, the volunteers also came in a variety of sorts. Happy and cheerful. All business. Even grumpy. Not sure what she was doing there if she was in such a bad mood, but I'm glad she was there.

For whatever reason she had Miss Grumpy didn't want to deal with me and sent me across the room. Not sure what that was all about and I don't know that I really care. Let Miss Grumpy deal with someone else. I got the Ladies Helpful. They gave me a filled with stuff and told me to follow the arrows on the floor. As there were no arrows where I was I had to then make a search for them. They weren't far away.

For some reason the arrows bypassed Lady Extremely Friendly and her partner, Smiles Pleasantly. Instead, I found myself at the milk line where I was asked if I wanted one or two cartons of milk. I said I would take two, if that was all right, and I thanked Mr Very Nice, who then added that I could choose one item from the bread table and one item from the sweets table. I took a bag of Harvest Grain bread, cut into 18 nice slices, and a plastic see through container with three frosted long john type rolls.

As I was heading for the exit Lady Extremely Friendly and her partner, Smiles Pleasantly, flagged me down. Would I care for cranberries, pumpkin mix, and condensed milk? I used to like cranberries. They were one of my favorite things on the Thanksgiving table when I was very young. But those were fresh cranberries, soaked the night before. These were from a can and, if memory serves me right, look like jello. Son wouldn't take a taste without being threatened, and Spouse wouldn't at all. So I passed. The pumpkin was tempting, but I haven't ever made pumpkin pie. Unless I did as a kid. Lady Extremely Friendly showed me the recipe on the can and I got a can on pumpkin mix and condensed milk. I guess we'll be having pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Spouse will like that.

So what else did I get?
  • A box of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix. Spouse's favorite.
  • A bag of sage and onion cube stuffing. Don't know how that will work. Spouse makes the greatest dressing from regular bread laid out overnight to get hard.
  • A can of cut yams in light syrup. I like yams. Oh, these came from Lady Extremely Friendly, too.
  • Two packets of turkey gravey mix. Not sure what that's about. We've always made our gravy from drippings in the roast pan.
  • A bag of fat free marshmallows. Fat free. Good for me. Lots of sugar though. Not sure how marshmallows fit in with Thanksgiving.
  • Two boxes of Jell-O gelatin. Lime and Strawberry.
  • Two boxes of macaroni and cheese dinners. Spouse likes these.
  • Two cans of apricot halves
  • Two cans of whole kernel corn
  • A box of Crispy Rice cereal, which is a generic version of Rice Krispies, I suppose.
  • Oh, and vouchers for a 16# turkey and a 10# bag of potatoes
Now true, some of these things are things we would never have purchased on our own. But without them we wouldn't be having much of a Thanksgiving Day meal.

I looked at some of the faces as I stood in line. One tends not to do that a lot. People in give-a-way lines tend to avoid eye contact. For the most part we were a quiet lot. A couple of people knew each other from their neighborhoods. I didn't recognize anyone. But there was one young woman who's face seemed to snap a picture in my mind. I don't know if I can describe why well, but I'll give it a go.

She was young. I'll guess early twenties. She had on a nice leather coat. I happened to be at that place in line where it had bent back to go past the entrance as she arrived. She looked around quickly. It was that look that said "Let me find out where I need to be right away so I can go hide there." And that's what struck me. Everything in her face told me she didn't want to be there. She wanted to be someplace else. Anyplace else. But she had to be here. That was key. She had to. I wonder what my face said. Fortunately, I don't have to look at it, so I don't really know.

I'm guessing she is a recent addition to the needy line. I make this guess not just because her clothes were still very nice, and because she still had a cell phone. But because her face said that facing this kind of humility was a new experience. But she's young, and there is certainly a lot of hope for her. And if her face is any indication of her future, I would also venture to guess that she will do fine. But I hope she never forgets the feelings she has now, nor allows those feelings to make her hard and bitter. What I hope is that she will be filled with gratitude over the people who made this day possible for her and whatever family she has, for me and Spouse and Son, and for the more than one hundred others who were there with us.

The holiday season is upon us now. It is a time when many of us look upon ourselves with a new sense of loathing, disgust, and general shame. At the same time, it is a also a season when we look at others with a newfound sense of gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness.

Some of you give to food shelves. Sometimes you may wonder if it's worth it. It is. And on behalf of those of us for whom it is worth it, I say Thank You.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Warm November Evening

Here's wishing I had something clever and worthwhile to say. Once again, my lack of education and experience leave me a dull write and a even more dull read. Pity.

One of the things about growing up in a small town without cable, cell phones or internet: one can get a completely false idea of just how clever one is. The internet is quite an eye opener. I have only met a few people online, but generally they are quite fantastic people. Well educated. Well skilled in the things I wish I were well skilled in. There are some pretty impressive people on this planet.

Pity I'm not one.

Guess I'm jealous.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Oh Quit Moaning

So I was at the heart clinic the other day. Wasn’t looking forward to going. Not at all. You see, I was supposed to be tested for sleep apnea in July. That was the month I lost my health insurance. We couldn’t afford to pay for the test, so I canceled it. Then, also in July, I was supposed to return to the regular clinic and have my blood retested for the doctor treating my diabetes. Couldn’t afford that either. Didn’t go. In November I was scheduled to have another echogram on my heart. Well, last year I had insurance – and it refused to pay. Took us ten months to pay it off. That, and the monthly premium for the insurance that wouldn’t cover it, contributed mightily to our losing the house this year. In any case, I canceled the echogram.

I was going to cancel the doctor visit, too, but Spouse insisted. Of course, Spouse insisted I keep the insurance – which paid for some of the cost of prescriptions. But I went.

I didn’t get yelled at like I always do about sleep apnea. It came out early on that we had lost the house and I no longer had insurance. But I felt no better leaving than I did arriving. Actually, I felt a bit worse. You see, he just confirmed what I have always suspected to be true: it’s all my fault.

Why is it all my fault? Because – I’m fat.

All of my problems are a result of being fat. If I wasn’t fat I wouldn’t have lost my job. If I wasn’t fat I could get a new job. If I wasn’t fat I wouldn’t nearly die every time I climb up those effing stairs to get to the apartment. If I wasn’t fat I would fee good about myself. If I wasn’t fat I wouldn’t have lost my house. If I wasn’t fat the weather would be nice. If I wasn’t fat the economy wouldn’t have gone into the toilet. If I wasn’t fat we could have found a cure for diabetes, aides, leukemia, and who knows how many other diseases? If I wasn’t fat there wouldn’t be war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So much misery. Just because I’m fat.

Well, so much for the bad news. I’m fat.

The good news is that I’m intelligent.

Now I didn’t argue this point at the time. What would be the point? But let’s consider the facts as they were presented to me.

1. All of my misery is a direct result of my being fat
2. Only I can change my being fat into my being thin
3. I know, and have known, this for a long time
4. I am still fat, despite knowing all of this

Pardon my wondering, but where is the intelligence in that equation?

You see, there is a fundamental problem with thin people looking at fat people and thinking, “If they really wanted to be thin they could.”

At some level that is absolutely true. But only at some level. There are a host of other levels which come into play and CANNOT be ignored. Self-esteem is major contributor to the equation.

People think fat people are unhappy because they’re fat, and if they would simply stop being fat they would be happy. In some cases that is completely true. But not in every case. Some people are not unhappy because they’re fat. They’re fat because they’re unhappy. And simply changing their weight is NOT going to change their mood. Why? Because their mood is not based on their weight. Their weight is based on their mood.

The reasons why anybody has low self-esteem are complex and varied. To a point everyone has to deal with it. Nobody is liked by everybody, and nobody is great at everything. But some of us happen to be a bit more gullible about some things than others.

To be told by one’s mother that one is hated, useless, disgusting, and never should have been born in the first place, all while being struck with whatever weapon was handy, affects one’s self-esteem. Should one grow up and get over it? Yes. One should. One should do a lot of things. But when such beatings, physical and verbal, occur regularly, and one accepts the truth of the words being inflicted, it’s hard. I’m sorry. It just is.

And when others reinforce the words with words of their own. The boy who was friendly simply to get one in range of the rock he was holding. Would be friends and lovers who saw one had something, and once they had got what they wanted no longer needed one, and so no longer behaved as friends. All of these things make a difference.

Should they? I guess not. And according to what I am told, strong people, smart people, good people, overcome these things.

Well, I guess I am not strong. I am not smart. And I am not good. So what am I?

I am fat.

And until that changes I will be miserable. Never mind that I have been fat for less than half my life. And never mind that I was miserable before I was fat. If I would just lose the weight I need to lose I could return to what I was before I was fat. Miserable.

Where’s my motivation?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why I Read

When I was growing up in the 1960s one of the big reading outlets was comic books. Most adults looked on them with disdain, and so-called "true readers" wouldn't have anything to do with them. But the truth was, comic books inspired reading.

I read them voraciously. My sister, Gayane, was a big reader and often got comic books from Mother, Aunt Cile, and Grandma. I didn't get them often. I learned to read, but few seemed to encourage it. My sisters taught me before I was five. And I learned that comic books were a wonderful source reading.

For me, they helped spur imagination because often the writers and the artists worked together. We got to see what the story creators envisioned.

Back in the 60s comic books were featured items at all big grocery stores. They came wrapped three together for a quarter. And some big comics (thick) were fifty cents each. I would save my quarters up and hang out by the magazine rack while Mother shopped for groceries. When she reached the checkout I would have one or two packages of comics. There was little teasing if I was buying Batman or Superman, but anything else brought ridicule. So most of the time when I read the other comics they would be Gayanne's.

But Aunt Cile would buy me Classics Illustrated. I bought the Casper, Spooky, Wendy, and Nightmare comics on my own. When I dared.

I don't see comics around anymore. I think one has to actually go to a comic book store. Even when I've been at Borders or Barnes and Noble I haven't seen them. Guess I don't know where to look. But I think it was a very good idea for grocery stores to carry them. They inspired me to read. And that kept me out of a lot of trouble while filling my head with dreams and imaginations.

Casper was one of my favorites. I liked the Harveytoon Comics. But something about the idea of a friendly ghost appealed to me. I loved the cartoons, too. Those often made me laugh. Hot Stuff was another favorite.
Beetle Bailey comics were usually purchased by Gayanne. These were cute, and good for a quick read.
Sugar and Spike were great, but they weren't easy to find. I have tried finding the cover image for my favorite issue, but no luck.
The Classics Illustrated were fantastic. If it wasn't for Classics Illustrated I never would have read the actual books. But seeing them in comic book form inspired me to grab the books without pictures to read. These included such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, White Fang, The Three Muskateers, Frankenstein, and Jungle Book, to name just a few.

I miss comic books. You know, if I could find Classics Illustrated for some of the current best selling novels I just might be inclined to read the actual books.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding Something to Do

When I was young, grade school kind of young, I developed an interest in schedules and standings. It sprang as an accident when my mother bought me two copies of Baseball Digest. She knew I liked baseball and figured I would like the magazines. To be perfectly honest, there wasn't a whole lot in them I found interesting. But the one edition did have something which I found just fascinating. It was a grid showing all 24 professional teams and the dates when each played where.

About the same time I was given a diary. Not being able to keep the diary up I did the next best thing. I translated the schedule grid into my diary. Now I could jump to any day throughout spring and summer and know which teams were playing where.

But that wasn't enough. I elected to then devise a means by which I could pretend to play every one of those games. That way, the teams I wished were best would be. It would prove to be the beginning of a lifelong interest in pretend leagues.

Using two decks of ordinary playing cards I devised a way to play each game, granting an "edge" to better teams, and "penalties" for weaker teams. And I played the whole thing out. Uh, my team did win the World Series, by the way.

Eventually, I expanded my play to include Hockey and Basketball. And knowing that no two seasons could be the same I began to devise my own schedules. I learned just how complicated that can be. I also learned how to schedule play-off grids, and tournament grids. By the time I was in high school I had become quite good at it, and began to view all tournament grids with a critical eye. It amazed me how people who just had no clue at all were given the task of devising these things.

One thing I always wished for was some way to automatically calculate random events, and to store and calculate season averages. Wasn't I happy when home computers came on the scene? I wrote a strategy baseball program on an Atari 800. Use all by 2 bytes of the available memory. The program was stored on a cassette tape and took five minutes to load. But once loaded it ran very fast. After all, it was a strategy program and had no graphics.

I played nearly two seasons with that program. It actually took longer than a year to play a season because each game took more than an hour to play. At some point in the second season the cassette tape became damaged and I lost the program. My backup didn't work.

I used to think I was unusual in this joy I got from playing make-believe seasons with make-believe players. Then I learned it is actually quite common. Lots of people find living vicariously this way to be a great stress reliever.

Personally, I do not like the video games for playing sports. They all require something which I do not like at all: dexterity with game controls. That's not what interests me at all. Timing when to swing a make-believe bat on a television or computer screen doesn't do it for me. What does do it is being the manager, giving the steal sign to the runner on first, and getting pissed off because he gets thrown out at second. Or putting on the hit-and-run and watching it succeed.

It's kind of like writing a story. Ultimately, I am in control and have the final say on everything. Yet it is interesting to just let the players play sometimes and see how they do.

Not sure what brought this up. Hope you're having a good day.

What do you do to amuse yourself? Anything you made?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What We Should Have Done

Well, yesterday I showed you one of the things we tried selling through our gift business that nobody (except me) wanted to buy. Today, I thought I would show you what actually is selling.

I hope I don't get sued or anything, but I'm referencing the Collections Etc. catalog we got in the mail the other day. It's got all kinds of cool things in it. "Over 1,500 Items - $14.99 or less!". They've got a website, so you can view all of their stuff.

I enclose a scan of the cover. Love the FREE SHIPPING. We tried that, too. Unfortunately, it didn't help. But maybe we should have tried selling the same kinds of things these guys are selling. Perhaps we would now have a viable business and still be in our house.

You know, if I thought I could look like this woman I would wear pajamas. I would love to look like her. Not sure Spouse would be keen on it, though. But the sad truth is I more resemble the snowman on the tricycle.
Oh, if only we had had the good sense to sell this charmer. We'd be rolling in the dough. Or in something.

But, we didn't. So instead of being in front of the feet we're behind them. Get it?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


When I was dumped from my job back in 2002 I didn't try to re-enter the same industry. I was already aware that I was on the 'old' side for it, and getting another position - when I was without a position - would not be easy. Or desirable. I didn't like the work.

Spouse's company was in the process of moving out of state so it was only going to be a matter of another year before we were both out of work.

We opted to start up a gift business. We sold a variety of things, mostly household, but a few tools and toys, and the first year went very well. After expenses we had made roughly $5,000 profit. That became my wages for the year. But of course the economy began collapsing about then. One by one, and then five by five, and finally everybody, began to stop making purchases from us. Our inventory went stagnant. We exhausted my severance pay trying to breathe new life into what was clearly a failing effort. Ultimately, we weren't even able to sell at cost. People just didn't have any money. And that included us.

What we wound up with was a mish mash of inventory. Things that had sold at one time but were now passe. Or had never sold in the first place. More than once I picked the wrong products to push. People don't like the things I like. I discovered to my dismay that white people won't buy porcelain figurines of black people, no matter how attractive they are. I thought they were cool.

When we had our big sale last June we put not only our personal things up for grabs, but also the business inventory. A lot of things sold, but not everything. With the exception of some new toys we had (a retail outlet Spouse worked at had us selling toys out of their store - until they went out of business) when the sale was over I declared the entire inventory as "sold". What this means is that, come January, Spouse and I will have to fork over the sales tax on those items the same as for everything that actually did sell. Basically, Spouse and I bought them.

One of the things we bought from ourselves was this lamp. It's a frosted glass bust of Jesus. Fairly plain looking in the day, but quite fantastic at night. It was in Son's room, but since coming to the apartment he's hardly in his room, so he brought it out. It sits on top of my computer monitor now. I took a picture of it, but the picture didn't come out that well. I had to muck about with the balance in order to see it on my monitor.

I still think it's cool and wonder why nobody would buy it. They bought other lamps from us which weren't half as cool. It isn't actually on a whole lot. The apartment is naturally dark and this lamp is more of a bedroom night light than an illuminating lamp.

But I like it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Bear's Breath is Sweet

Yeah, I know. It's Animal Day. But I stumbled on another stupid test and I just had to take it. I mean, how can you pass over a test with the title, "What kind of Toothpaste are You?"

So I took it.

You Are (I am) Spearmint Flavored Toothpaste

You are thoughtful about most things in life, and you tend to spend a lot of time alone just reflecting.
You are a true introvert. You need your space and privacy to feel recharged. You savor your alone time, even when you're brushing your teeth.

You live a slow pace of life, and you enjoy every moment more than most people. You stop to appreciate what you have.
You are in touch with nature. Nothing makes you feel more at home than being outside without another human in sight.

Spearmint. Hmm. I was hoping for Wintergreen. Love the Certs lozenges of that flavor.

So, what about the results?
  • I spend a lot of time alone - just reflecting
Well, when one is alone there isn't a whole lot else to do. And if people hate being around one, one is apt to be alone.
  • I'm a true introvert. I need my space and privacy. Even when brushing my teeth.
What's with this even business? Who brushes their teeth in a crowd? Teeth brushing generally means bathroom time. And unless one happens to be a kinky sort of mood bathroom time is alone time.
  • I live a slow pace of life and enjoy every moment more than most people.
I've always said people were unhappy. Now I've got proof!
  • I'm in touch with nature. Nothing makes me feel more at home than being outside without another human being in sight
If things don't improve financially soon that's exactly where I'm going to be. At least I'll be happy.

So, because this is Animal Day, I also took another test: "What's Your Energy Animal". Apparently, there are only four possible results. Don't know what the other three could be, but there was a picture of a tiger. I would love to have been a tiger. Instead,

You're a Big-Hearted Bear

Although one animal is usually dominant, keep in mind that "we all have tendencies of all four animals," says Hadady. Here are the typical characteristics of a Bear:

Face shape: Broad, round or square.

Body type: Often stocky, carry excess weight in the belly. (I think being fat put me in the 'bear' category right off.)

Social style: You love to socialize with friends and family
(SO NOT TRUE) and often cook, sing or tell jokes (SO TRUE).

Spirit: You crave the comfort and fulfillment of meaningful relationships, but too often you settle for a pastry instead. (Hey. The poor take what they can get.)

With others you are: Compassionate, warm and patient. (It's easy to be compassionate, warm and patient when one is alone. [see earlier test])

Best traits: Loving and kind. (What can I say? [humble smile])

Worst traits: Unadaptable to change, overly sensitive (Where the hell do they get off saying that? [get it?])

Ideal job: One where you can freely express your words, thoughts and feelings (NICE); one that involves food (VERY NICE). Bears are often writers (COOL), teachers or chefs.

Food cravings: Sweets. Unfortunately, your sweet tooth puts you at risk for abdominal obesity and diabetes. (I'm not at risk. I'm fat beyond description and I do have diabetes.)

Worst eating habit: Turning to food in times of emotional stress. (Only when there's food to be eaten.)

Ideal exercise: Any kind of team sport. (I said swimming. They changed my answer. Are they calling me a liar?)

Weight loss goal: Break your emotional attachment to food and turn to friends, not sweets, in times of stress. (Where in the hell did this come from? I thought I was taking a test about my energy animal and suddenly I'm being lectured by a quiz about how fat I am. Sheesh.)

So. So much for Animal Day, huh?

The Bear has spoken. Now it's time to hunt up something to eat. I'll eat slowly by myself, enjoying my reflective thoughts on my minty fresh breath.

Just makes you wish you could hug me, right? Well, buy yourself the largest stuffed bear you can find and squeeze it tight. The sensation should be about the same.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deep Water

I was reminded the other night about how we used to go swimming in the gravel pit.

All over our state there are places where heavy machinery was used to dig out the earth for various purposes. I don't know what they all were, but in some cases I expect they were taking clay to mix with aggregate and stuff for patching/making new roads. When the work was completed the pits were abandoned and the earth left to heal its scars on its own.

In some cases, particularly where there was a lot of clay, water would begin to accumulate. For one thing, the pits were deep, and they would take in a lot of ground water. Then there would be heavy rains, winter snows and such, and the pits would begin to fill with water.

I don't know the average depth of these pits, but I do know it wasn't unusual for them to be more than one hundred feet deep. There was one not far from where I grew up that was purported to be at least that deep. And it had mostly filled with water. Rumor was, someone had used some sort of sonar thing and determined the water level was around ninety feet. It had a kind of shelf around the edge. I suppose the old road used by trucks hauling. Anyway, we used this gravel pit as a swimming hole. Well, once.

Chris was the one who brought Stephen and me to the pit. He had been swimming there with friends all summer and wanted Stephen and I to experience it, too. None of us were good swimmers. In fact, I couldn't really swim at all. Stephen wasn't much better. Neither was Chris, but Chris had no fear about most things.

There was about a twenty foot difference between the top edges of the pit and the water surface below. A kind of cutaway ramp was how we reached the water. Someone had created a pontoon raft out of a pair of old empty oil drums and some wooden planks.

After swimming about for a few minutes Chris then told us how they liked to go up to the top, take a running start, and then jump out into the water. "Better than a diving board," he said. He then showed us how it was done.

He explained that one wanted to make as wide a target (without belly flopping) as possible to slow and reduce the rate of descent. But if one were to drop in straight one could go quite deep.

This is where my curiosity and my stupidity combined against me. I decided I wanted to know how deep I could drop. (As if there would be any way for me to measure it.) So I took an extra long running start (for some reason the amount of space one runs before jumping makes a huge psychological difference) and leaped high and out. As I felt myself beginning to drop I pinned my hands at my sides and came down feet first as straight as I could. (Remember, I couldn't swim, so there was no way I was diving in head first.)

Now I had jumped off diving boards into pools before. But those boards were only a few feet above the water line and the deepest pool I had ever jumped in was twelve feet. In those cases I would feel my feet touch bottom and I would immediately push myself back up to the surface where I would flounder to the pool's edge - and ultimate safety.

This time I was jumping from twenty or more feet above the water. And ninety feet isn't twelve. I went down more than twelve feet.

I have no idea how far down I went. How could I measure it? All I know is that I could feel the water sliding past me and I knew I was still dropping. Fun, fun, fun. Until I felt the need to breathe again. The problem was, I was still going down. I waited a bit longer, assuming I would slow down, stop, and begin to rise again, but I kept going down.

Now my brain finally began to catch up to my actions. The thought occurred to me that if I was already running out of breath, and I was still going downward, getting back to the top before I drowned was becoming more and more problematic. I had just placed myself in a very stupid - and dangerous - position.

Now I have been known to be calm in a crisis. When the house burned down I was the one my parents credited with being rationale and calm. At the same time I can panic with the best of them. I was the first one out of the house when unexplained crash happened and I was certain a ghost was out to get me.

So now I'm still getting into deeper and deeper water, and I'm running out air, and I need to get back to the top. My arms and legs spread out and brought me to a quick stop. Now I'm literally crawling my way back up toward the surface, certain that I'm not going to make it.

Now here is where the laws of physics worked in my favor. I had taken a big breath before jumping, and air is lighter than water. So my body was now in a hurry to get to the top even without my will.

Clearly, I made it to the top. But now I saw the poor choice of having jumped so far away from the cliff. Shore wasn't close. And I couldn't swim. I was still in trouble.

Fortunately, Stephen had been sitting on the makeshift pontoon, and with the pontoon were a couple of canoe paddles. He called to me, and between my thrashing and his rowing I got on board. But I was done swimming for the night. And I never returned to that place.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What We Do to Our Children

So Son is bored, bored, bored, bored, bored with life in an apartment. In this apartment in particular. He wants to go places and do things. Unfortunately, all of the places he wants to go to, and all of the things he wants to do when he gets there, cost money.

Today he began by suggesting we go to the golf course. It's an excellent idea. It would get us outside and breathing non-cigarette smoked air. But they don't let people play golf for free around here. In fact, it can be quite expensive. At $20 per person for nine holes at the executive course, and another $20 to rent the cart, we would be spending no less than $60 for a short round of golf on an executive course. (There is no way I could walk it. I would have a heart attack and die. Not necessarily a horrible way to go, but the timing would be poor.)

Later, he suggested we drive to Otsego and go to the batting cages. Another not-so-bad idea. But even the batting cages aren't free. Or cheap. I don't recall the exact price, but in order to get a good amount of bat swinging in one has to be get a lot of tokens.

We've had cool fall weather in Minnesota, but the snows which fell earlier have all melted away, and the recent snows and rain which were predicted failed to show up. So I expect the golf courses and batting cages are actually still open despite it being November. But even though we just got a pile of money in the mail, it would be kind of irresponsible to spend that much money on fun when we weren't able to make November rent on time.

So we stayed in the apartment and Son amused himself with his Wii and GameCube, interrupted on occasion with efforts to find other things to do.

I wasted the day. Can't write with a steady stream of interruptions. So I played computer games and interrupted those on occasion by laying on the bed and wishing I was either asleep or had lots of money so we could go golfing or visit the batting cages.

One of the things Son did to try and amuse himself was rummage through boxes. He showed up at the desk holding three of my sports trophies. One was from 1971. It was a second place trophy from the Soderville Athletic Association for playing baseball. We would have won the championship had it not been discovered that our coach was cheating.

The second trophy was from 1979. It was a consolation trophy from hte Mounds View Parks and Recreation Department. That was the year my brother had convinced Stephen, Chris, and me to join him in a a touch football league. We would have won the championship there, too, except I got married on the day the play-offs began and we had to forfeit the first game, which put us in the consolation bracket. No double elimination.

The third trophy is probaby the best of the three. It's from 2006. It didn't come from any league, or association, or anything like that. It came from a group of 11 boys I coached at Willie Mays baseball. It's an open baseball glove on a stand. Both are made of plastic. Resting in the glove is a new baseball, signed by every member of the team. They write, "Thanks Coach for a great year!"

It was, too. It was a difficult year in many ways, but once again our team won the consolation trophy. (As coach I didn't receive anything for that.) We had to win three games in six hours with a heat index of over 100 degrees. Son got sick from the heat. So did players from other teams. I cried when it was over because I had failed to pay close enough attention, believing I would see the signs before it was too late. I was wrong, and it cost Son and other players. When Son got sick I tried to end the game by forfeiting, but the parents, umpires, other team, and league officials wouldn't allow it. We had to finish that consolation champion game. We did, and our team won, but I have been banned from the league for my horrible behavior. (I also tried to end an earlier play-off game when it got dark and began to rain. Once again no one would allow me to forfeit, but I took Son and went home. I - and Son - were punished for this infraction against youth baseball and had to sit out a game.)

Not all parents liked my coaching style. To be honest, few did. And not just in baseball. I also coached several of Son's basketball teams. Until they ran me out of that, too. You see, I don't coach youth teams with idea they are going to win. I coach them so that they learn how to play the game and have fun doing it. This means just getting better, or even just learning how it is done.

To the horror of my assistant coach I actually drafted a girl onto the team on purpose! I had seen there were three girls who had chosen to play youth baseball instead of youth softball. I knew in my heart that unless these girls were very good they would not be given a fair chance. And based on the skills chart only one showed any promise. The next happened to be in the same round as Son's best friend, and I chose him instead of the girl. Son's best friend isn't exactly a sports legend himself. (He had never played baseball before and didn't know how to do anything.) So when the third girl's round came up I had first pick. I picked her. My assistant had argued and argued against it, but I didn't even bother to argue back. I just picked her.

Turned out she didn't know much about baseball either. We played 15 games, and for the first 14 she was a sure out. But then so was Son's best friend. But those two players made me feel a zillions times better than I did when the team won those three game to claim the consolation championship.

Son's best friend became a better than average defensive player. When the season began he couldn't throw the ball ten feet. (Ever see the movie, Sandlot?) By the end he threw out a fast runn from the third base position. It was a great play. And the girl finally got a hit.

To me, that is what youth sports is all about. But when the leagues are playing, I am the ONLY won who coaches that way. The others all shunt aside their 'weak' players and focus on the 'good' ones. When Son's best friend played basketball last year his coach told him to just stand under the basket and collect rebounds. Didn't teach him a thing. Everything I had taught him before was tossed away.

We ruin sports for our children now. Son had no interest in signing up for even basketball this year. And he's good. He has played defense against all of the so-call 'great' players in his class. He shut them all down. They all begged not to have Son play defense against them. They got their wish. He quit. He has no interest in sport politics. He just wanted to have fun, and it isn't anymore.

When I was young, it was.