Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Weight Watch Page

UPDATED on May 31: Made my month goal.

UPDATED on May 27:
Filled in some missing data. Made my May goal and am now aiming for an extension.

I have a New Watch Page for the month of May. If you care to compare, here's a link to the Old Watch Page from April.

Entering May, I have lost six pounds in four weeks. I know that doesn't sound like anything to brag about, but I saw my heart doctor this week and he said he was happier with my six than he would have been with sixteen. He wants me to lose one or two pounds each week - and no more. Slow weight change means I'm changing the way I live. Fast weight change means I'm starving myself. That can't be maintained.

What's it Worth Not to Move It

So, our garage sale is about to begin. We're hoping to sell three-quarters of our personal things and all of our business inventory. This will reduce the volume of things we will have to move in a couple of months.

I snapped some pictures of our business inventory. Well, some of it. We've got more than 700 items to sell. Virtually all of it is being sold at a tremendous loss. There's one item for which the suggested retail price was $21. I listed it for a dollar. Just to get rid of it. Not everything is going to be such a bargain. Some things are being sold at 80-90% of our cost. But for the items which never did move well I've given up and am practically giving them away.

W.C.Fields was quoted as saying: There comes a time in every man's life when he must take the bull by the tail and face the situation squarely.

Regarding our business, I guess this is my time for that.

What I find most unfortunate is how "junky" everything looks in our garage. Maybe that's why I found it so difficult to even price things at cost. We don't have the nice displays that we used when we would set up at shows and private homes. Unpainted and untaped drywall makes a poor backdrop. So does a concrete floor. And it's dark. And cluttered with so many things put in such a small place.

We'll be selling food and drink, too. We purchased a grill (because we're planning on selling our stove) and will be cooking hot dogs. Then there are bags of snacks, freeze pops (until the chest freezer and refrigerator sell), soda pop, and bottled water. During part of our sale there is a city-wide garage sale going on, and a carnival, so we're hoping for a lot of traffic at that time. Spouse keeps wanting to delay the sale of certain items, but I maintain that most of our sales are going to occur during that carnival period, so we had best have everything out at that time - or we're going to be stuck moving it. (Or throwing it away.) I suppose the new items could be turned over to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army.

To satisfy possible curiosity, I am posting some of the pictures I took of our business inventory. It is varied, as we displayed different things for different shows. The dolls are not set up at this time, so I have no pictures of them. But those have been a good sell for us. Some things have done suprisingly poor. People aren't keen on buying Mother's Day items. Most of the toys have gone well, though. And incense. I've never been keen on incense, but a lot of people are.

So, here are the pictures. And please remember, the items looked a lot nicer when they were displayed in other environments with more room.

One of my favorite things to sell are the wooden trains. These are made by Maple Landmark, a Vermont company which is privately owned. They are very nice people and make an excellent product. They have Name Trains and Timber Toots. We've mostly been selling Timber Toots and track. It fits with all the mainline wooden train sets.

The Scoots are also made by Maple Landmark. The decks of cards we got through a toy distributor. We got a good deal on them. (No pun intended.) Now others are going to get a bargain as we're pricing them low. Low hand wins this time.

I fell in love with Luckyphants (little elephant figurines) from the first moment I saw them. They came from the same company which makes our musical dolls, although they didn't make the Luckyphants. For some reason, the company which actually made them stopped making them. Don't know why, but this is all we have left. Love the musical angels in the background, too. Unfortunately, I appear to be the only one with such feelings. We've had them in stock for years. I'm selling them at a 75% loss. Losing on the Luckyphants, too.

The glass crosses did not go over well, and it's taken a few years for us to reduce our inventory to five or six. We did Amia suncatchers for a time, too. The only ones which sold well were those depicting cats. I was surprised. They are all glass and hand-made. Gorgeous. Another huge loss.

Our spun glass items didn't fare well. The only pieces which sold well were the Birthstone Angels (middle shelf left). Unfortunately, they are so delicate that it was not unheard of that I should break one or two setting up during shows. Did so in the garage. Lost both of the January angels. Now what's left is a February and a July.

We also did a variety of garden and figurine items. Bird feeders did well, and we have none left in stock (unless you count the sprite at the left as a feeder). This is the last of our planters and Tiger plates. I'm normally not a plate collector, but I liked the cat plates. We bought one for ourselves, as well as a Cougar plate. Unfortunately, we entered the business just as the company was discontinuing their cat plates. Our plush did well. We're down to three Piglets. Plush Snoopy dogs did VERY well.

Here is a hodgepodge of items on our Cross Display. During shows we would drap the display with dark blue cloth which made the crosses stand out. Crosses probably did better than anything we sold, which I confess surprised me. Except for glass crosses. My favorite happens to be the Ivory Cross, which is next to the Nursery Cross at the left. I bought a mess of those and we still have two left. The Nursery Crosses did not do well at all. We wound up buying them ourselves and giving them away as presents to new mothers. Of what's left, the ones showing the life of Jesus did the best. The Birthstone Bears did excellent - until Aurora decided they wouldn't make them anymore. Now we're down to six: three for June and three for August. That's Chinese Incense hanging at the right. Big losses on all of this stuff.

Night lights did not go over well, and that was a disappointment. My favorite is the frosted glass head of Jesus. Paid a lot at wholesale for that. Too much, I guess. In order to make a profit I had to set the price high. Also, it was difficult to display properly. In the daytime it doesn't look like much. But at night. Wow! The books are The Christmas Letters. Got those from a small publishing house from South Dakota. They did okay. Well enough that I'm selling them at a profit. We paid $2.99 for each. We're selling them for $3.00.

And so there you have it. That's most of what we're selling. What's especially nice about the fact that we're selling at a loss is that we don't even get to keep all of the money. You see, since these items were purchased for our business, we did not pay sales take to get them. This means we much charge sales tax when we sell them. So if we sell and item for $1.00, we really have sold it for $0.93. The State of Minnesota gets $0.065 sales tax, which rounds up to $0.07. And we DO charge sales tax. The last thing we need is to get in trouble with the government. Our government is not exactly noted for being forgiving. And we have a Republican governor, so you can imagine how nice he can be. No. We'll pay our sales tax. Even when we charge a quarter. Then we make twenty-three cents and the state gets its tuppence.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Heck of a Team

Before camcorders, Ipods, cell phones which double as spy cameras, there were tape recorders. That was what Stephen and I used to ad-lib various skits. Stephen was a master at at-lib. I thought of the right things to say, but often didn't have the courage to say them, even with Stephen. Too afraid of offending. Offending was never something Stephen worried about when making jokes. I guess in his mind people should be mature enough to understand that funny is funny, even when it is insulting. That is true, too. People who aren't afraid to be laughed at tend to be nicer people than people who will not tolerate it. But sometimes it can get over the top.

What was nice about a tape recorder was that since the listener had no idea what was going on, it was difficult, if not outright impossible, for them to predict what was going to happen next. So when Stephen and I did a skit about an incompetent barber, and the customer finally got the barber to stop and listen, the short pause of complete silence followed by the the sound of a hair clipper going again came off really well.

We got into doing fake play-by-play and sports commentary on Minnesota Vikings football games. Needless to say, Bud Grant and his team did not fare well under our imaginations. Stephen didn't on the day he decided to use innuendo in his humor. By chance, that was the day his mother came to listen to what we were doing that was causing all the commotion. I can still see her beating on him with her hands while he lay on his back and kicking up with his feet. Stephen's mother was not shy about being herself even when company was over.

Inevitably, our sports commentary took us to real games. Not professional real games. My brother belonged to his company's slow-pitch softball team. This was a highly competitive league, and the teams were considered "A" level.

Stephen and I showed up at a game with our (his) tape recorder in hand and dropped down behind the backstop where we could see the action.

Stephen was always "Charlie Bush". He found the name amusing for some reason. I was "Joe". Stephen would always talk fast when describing any action and make completely innane comments. He would fit right in with today's commentators.

Not all of the players appreciated our presence. Some gave us looks. But not all. But then Stephen didn't treat them all equally. God help the person who showed any kind of sensitivity to Stephen's remarks. That was just throwing fuel on the fire.

I remember my brother's best friend coming up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. My brothers' team was down by a run at the time. This was Mike's chance to be a hero.

I did the "Now batting (pause) for Murhpy Trucking (pause) Mike (pause) (last name)". Some of the wives and offspring around us cheered. Then I went into a fake spiel about Mike as a player. Just as the pitch came Stephen announces in a loud voice, "You know, Joe, I couldn't find any baseball cards of this guy." Mike reacted just as he swung the bat. Pitiful ground ball to the pitcher. When he turned and looked at us we ended our presence before he did.

This is not funny to anyone else, I'm sure. But it was part of what Stephen and I did to amuse ourselves. Stephen gave me the confidence to do the things I knew I could do. I'm not sure what I gave him. But we were friends, and will be again one day. And, considering my age, I'm thinking it won't be all that long.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Movie Review

Rented some movies last night. Only 99-cents, so it wasn't a big deal. Three were cartoon episodes of Underdog, and two were classic movies from the late 50s and early 60s.

Last night we watched The Miracle Worker, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke (in her first major movie role), made in 1962.

To those of my generation the story is familiar, and probably most, if not all, have even seen the film. It is the story of Helen Keller who, at the age of 19-months, developed a serious illness which left her blind and deaf. The movie is an account of how Annie Sullivan taught Helen how to use sign language and communicate with and understand the world around her.

It is a moving story, well-written and well-acted by all concerned. We see real people with real problems. There are no heroes or villains. Just people. Real people portrayed as real people with real failings, hopes, strengths, and weaknesses. Ultimately, it is a story of love and persistence, and the rewards which come from suffering through ordeals.

What makes the movie so much better is that it does not rely on special effects of any kind. True, I'm sure the entire film was done on a stage lot in California and not on location, but the background, the house, the things around the people are not the focus. The people are so compelling.

Although several characters walk through the story, five stand out. Helen and Annie, of course, and Helen's parents, played by Inga Swensen and Victor Jory. There is also an older brother to Helen, played by Andrew Prine. These characters demonstrate the love and problems which exist in nearly every family to some degree, and how adding a new element (Annie) can exacerbate these things to a fateful conclusion.

It is a movie worth watching, even if you are the action-adventure type. There's no political posturing, or overt social statement to make, compared to anything of the like made today.

Rent it, if you can. Or borrow it from your local library. It's only 106 minutes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Freedom of Riding a Horse

You know, it only seems like a short time ago that we owned horses. But the truth is that we gave the horses away nearly twenty years ago. My, doesn't time fly by?

We got the horses through Spouse's brother and sister-in-law. They had a hobby farm and owned a few horses themselves. Spouse has always liked horses and wanted one for years. The opportunity came in the early 80s for me to buy one and I did. Spouse got him as a birthday present and was immediately thrilled. Decca was a small, fat, Spanish Barb type horse who arrived in a panic. He was roan, with a small blaze and three white socks. And apart from his hysterical arrival, he was one of the lazier horses on the place. And he pretty much did whatever he wanted when Spouse rode him. B showed Spouse how to pull the horse's head back in order to turn it - when the horse refused to follow leg commands. This worked for everybody. Except Spouse. I watched Decca walk off (he never ran off) with Spouse on his back trying to get him to go in another direction. Since his head was pulled back he would actually crash into bushes. He only did this with Spouse. With everyone else he did what was expected of him.

My horse, Liebschen, was half Percheron and half Quarter Horse. She got the worst of both breeds, I guess, regarding appearances. She was a bay, and a lot smarter than anyone but me gave her credit for. My sister-in-law hated her. She ate more than any other horse. She was messier than the other horses. And she only obeyed me.

I rode Liebschen a lot. We would ride the four miles to the old train path which was now a biking, hiking, and horse trail. Then we would ride a few miles in one direction or the other and return.

There are several stories I could tell about riding Liebschen. And Decca. And the third horse we purchased: Brandy. But there is one which took place on the Luce Line near the town of Watertown.

Liebschen and I were on our way back after a ten mile ride out. It was late in the day and we were ready to go home. I was letting her walk slowly because it was hot.

Up ahead I saw a young girl between sixteen and twenty struggling to get her horse to cross a small patch of flowing water which had crossed the trail. It was spring, and the flood waters were still high in places. When Liebschen and I had come out she had stopped at the same place, very concerned about the water which wasn't supposed to be there. It was so small a five-year-old child could step across it without getting their feet wet. But it was different, and horses don't take to different sometimes. (I've known people like that.)

I saw no reason to hurry. For one thing, a horse rushing up might just frighten the other horse even more, and the girl was already struggling. No need for anyone to get hurt. I already knew how to solve the problem - assuming the girl didn't get the horse to cross on her own.

As I neared the girl on her horse I noted that there was a man standing down in the low area where the water was draining to. As I neared the man turned and greeted me. I was about to greet him back when I realized he was stark naked. No wonder the girl was distressed. At least she was on a horse. Should the looney try to reach her, she could at least turn and gallop back the way she had come, even if it was the wrong way. But there was no need for that.

While I never got to be an expert with horses, I had learned a few things. One was that horses are herd animals. They will instinctively group together. Also, horse greet each other by touching noses. That was how I got Decca to finally accept me. (When we first got him, he was terrified of me. I was taller than he was.) I would stoop so his head was higher and breath into his nose and let him do the same to me. In time, he came to accept me as non-threatening. A third thing is that horses have a difficult time concentrating on more than one thing at a time.

So as Liebschen and I came close, the girl's horse quit paying attention to the water and focused on Liebschen. She wanted to greet my horse. I let Liebschen stretch out her head to the other horse, which reciprocated the gesture. Then, just before they touched, I turned Liebschen using my legs. This made the other horse follow, hoping to complete the greeting. Before it knew it, it had crossed the water.

As soon as it did, the girl dug in her heels and galloped away. Liebeschen and I continued on our way. We still had ten miles ahead of us. Never saw the looney again. Or the girl. Hope she was spared, too.

We kept horses for maybe ten years. Seems like it should have been longer, but it wasn't. I haven't ridden a horse now in nearly twenty years. Don't know if I could anymore. The truth is, they are not that expensive to purchase. But they are expensive to keep. Monthly boarding bills can cost more than the horse itself.

One really needs to be in the country to have horses. Living near a managed horse trail like the Luce Line is an advantage, too. I miss it. Riding a horse through the trees put me in touch with my imagination in ways I have not been able to duplicate.

I still wonder, sometimes, whatever happened to our horses after we gave them away. Twenty years. Decca and Brandy are no doubt dead. Both were over ten when we got them, and they probably wouldn't have made it to thirty. Liebschen was only two when I got her, so she would be old - assuming she is still alive. I doubt she is. I was the only one who really liked her. Pity. I doubt we'll ever have horses again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Always on the Outside Looking In

The Old House had a one-time garage attached at the north side. We used it for storage, but we called it the porch, despite it only having one tiny window on the north wall.

The storage area was an original building, but the kitchen and bathroom portion which connected the storage area with the main house was more recent. The storage area is where we kept our chickens that spring.

For a long time, the only working door to get in and out of the house was through the porch (storage area). The door on the south side, off the big room, was locked. The door off the dining room was locked. And the door from the kitchen was blocked by hot water piping which ran along the floor. So access to the house was made through the porch.

This was a problem for me. Although strong for my age, I wasn't always strong enough to get the d*mn door open from the outside. Or maybe it wasn't strength. All I know is that the adults didn't seem to have any problem with it. But it was not unusual for me to get locked out. Not a problem in summer, but a nasty bit of business in winter.

I remember a time in January when Mother was home for some reason. I was waiting inside for the bus to come around the corner about a quarter mile to the south. For whatever reason I was distracted and missed it until it was nearly to the house. Mother yelled at me and I grabbed my things and rushed outside, slamming the door behind me.

Well, either the driver didn't see me or he didn't care. (Back in those days drivers were not above driving off if students weren't ready.) As I raced helplessly toward the road the bus drove off and left me.

There was nothing more to do about it. It was below zero. I wasn't going to walk to school. I wasn't dressed that warm. So I returned to the house. Only to find the door would not open.

I beat on the door and hollered as loudly as I could, but no one came. I suppose had I been using my brains, I should have walked around the house and tapped on windows. But I was only in first grade and that never occurred to me. All I knew was there there was but one way to get in, and that was locked to me.

Eventually, I quit my hammering and sat down to shiver and wait.

A few hours later my mother chanced to come outside to feed the dogs. She found me sitting on the doorstep. I neither expected, nor received, any kind of sympathy. Instead, I was slapped my entire way into the house. Fortunately, I was so frozen I hardly felt it. Nor did I care. I went to the stove in the living room and sat near to warm up.

My day was spent being yelled at and made to do work around the house. It didn't matter.

And people wonder why I hate winter.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Name is Nobody

Do not confuse my title with the 1973 movie of the same name starring Terrence Hill. If you're curious about it, here's the link. As movies go, it was all right.

No. What I am referring to is that I believe I have discovered my real name. Turns out I was really adopted after all. I had asked my Mother about it, trying to be clever, so as not to reveal my suspicions.

Mom, which of your children did you adopt?

What are you talking about? I adopted Nobody!

Nobody? Hmm.

Later, as I was growing up and would get together with other kids trying to decide what to do, I would offer suggestions.

Let's play baseball!

Aw! Nobody wants to play baseball.

Nobody? Hmm.

When teachers would (rarely) give the class a choice on something, such as which book to have read during story time.

Okay, Class. I have two books. One is Sea Pup, by Archie Binns. The other is Dull and Stupid, by Hecant Write. Now, who wants Sea Pup? (I would raise my hand) Nobody. Okay, we'll do Dull and Stupid.

When I left home and would go grocery shopping I learned that major decisions about products were being made based on my buying habits.

There used to be this wonderful spaghetti I would buy. It was quite long. So long, in fact, that it had to be bent in an incredibly long "U" shape. I loved it, despite the requirement of a large kettle in order to cook it. It came in five pound boxes and I would buy at least one box every month. Then, Cub Foods quit selling it. Desire overcame fear and I actually asked an employee about it. They didn't know anything. So I did what was for me unthinkable: I contacted the manufacturer. I was told they didn't make it anymore. Turns out, they discovered Nobody wanted it.

Nobody again. Hmm.

Same thing happened with Cream of Shrimp soup. Cub quit selling that, too. Having dared ask once, I asked again. This time I was shown to a manager who explained that Cub just couldn't afford to stock merchandise that Nobody wanted.

Still with the Nobody.

My son was laughing at me yesterday. (Why should Monday be different than the other days of the week?) I forget exactly what we were talking about, but then he pointed out that every time I start to really like something, whoever is responsible for making it - stops. My favorite television shows? Off the air because Nobody watched them. My favorite foods? No longer sold because Nobody bought them. My favorite pastimes? Others don't wish to participate because Nobody wants to do that.

Now I understand why President Obama is getting all this heat lately. Someone let it slip that Nobody voted for him.

It's just a matter of time before all visits to my blogs stop because people learn that Nobody wants to view these blogs. In fact, Nobody writes them!

Had I known all of this earlier I would have supported the Bush-Chaney ticket and spared the world a lot of grief.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bully's Reformation

When I was young there was a place about two miles away where we would go to swim. It was in a small creek which ran under Country Road 22. At its deepest it might have been three feet.

We would bike up there, park our bicycles, and jump in. It was fun to float under the bridge when cars were going over. No skinny dipping, though. Not here. That was done someplace else.

This was also a place where some would go fishing - when there were no swimmers present. Tommy and I went fishing there more than once. Actually caught something. Once. Then Tommy got mad at me because I said I wouldn't eat the fish. Not that I'm against eating animals. On the contrary. No. What I was (and still am) against is fighting with bones to eat. And that's what fresh water fish means to me.

There were these two older boys. They thought they were toughs. We just thought they were creeps. If they were so tough, why did it take two of them to beat up on any one single person? They never fought alone. And they never threatened groups. What they did was isolate one person from the group, and then demonstrate their toughness. The isolated person would never get help. Kind of like adult politics, isn't it?

Anyway, these two idiots (and why was it that the so-called toughs could never get a grade above "D") came down to the waterhole one day to fish. Wish spears. This ought to be interesting, I thought.

Joe, the dominant one, took his trident and went wading out into the water, downstream of the bridge where the creek poured into a swamp. We all watched with anticipation as he hunted his fish.

Suddenly, Joe stopped.

I see something! It's moving on the bottom.

Tommy was excited. I shook my head, but there was no point in saying anything. Joe never listened to anybody. Joe struck.

Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

Tommy looked at me.

Did the fish bite him?

I shook my head.

No. The idiot just speared his own foot.

Sure enough, Joe was limping out of the creek. Doug rushed to help him while the rest of us laughed. (Hey, if you had been there you would have laughed, too.) In true friendship form, Doug was very concerned over Joe's injury, which wasn't bad. Water bends light and Joe had no comprehension about that, so he aimed at where he thought the prey was. The result was he only caught the side of his foot enough to make it bleed. There was no serious damage. Yes, Doug was concerned, but he was also too dense to put together all that had just taken place.

Why'd you do that Joe? Huh? Why'd you spear your own foot?

We all fell off the bridge laughing. Tommy went and retrieved the spear and set it on the shore where Joe, or Doug, could retrieve it later. Then we all returned to our swimming.

Oddly enough, Joe ceased to be a bully after that. Not only that, but he wasn't quite so stupid anymore either. Doug, on the other hand, while stopping his bully tactics (couldn't do it on his own) never developed any kind of smarts like Joe did.

You know, sometimes when you leave a bully to his own devices he will teach himself a lesson he will never forget. It worked with Joe. Wish it worked that way with all bullies.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Political Buddies

Nearly twenty years ago I came to work for a small privately owned company as a documentation writer. It was one of the more uncreative jobs I have had. What I did was take hand-written notes which others put together and type them into the computer, formatting them appropriately. I was not allowed to change a word - even when the wording was incredibly stupid. Seeing the stupid documentation for other products I am inclined to accept that this is some sort of standard in the world.

Two cases in point.

The first was for a DOS version of Microsoft Word. This dates back to the 1980s. At that time I had never used Microsoft Word, so my manager gave me the manual. We opened up the software and read about how, from the Main Menu, we could do all of these wonderful things. But there was no Main Menu. Not on my screen. What was more, the documentation didn't explain anywhere how to access the Main Menu. Eventually, we just began pushing buttons, to see what would happen. We discovered that by pressing the ESC key, the Main Menu displayed. Very helpful.

The second instance actually took place a few years earlier, when I worked at the outgoing mail department for a major evangelist. I had been transferred to what was called the "utility crew". We drove fork lifts, drove truck, handled the dock, and kept the machines stocked with materials. I had only recently been promoted to truck driver. Just in time for the company to decide that their existing straight truck was no longer worth keeping. In truth, it wasn't a bad truck - if one knew how to drive it. But it had a poor clutch, and in order to shift from second to third gear one had to double-clutch. There were only three of us who were willing to do this. Everyone else would use the "if I push hard enough it will eventually work" method. The clutch was constantly being broken. And when top brass decided they could save a few bucks by using the company truck for personal transports, the old truck had to give way to a new one. Automatic transmission.

Have you any idea how stupid and ineffectual an automatic transmission is on a straight truck designed to haul 24,000 pounds? No matter. Not the point of what I'm trying to say. Suffice to say that I hated that truck. But I kept it in good condition. So it was with great sadness that I saw other drivers beat the living h*ll out of it. Including my boss, who broke the supposedly unbreakable guard at the back designed to prevent drivers from backing too close to certain docks. He just didn't understand that 20-m.p.h. was too fast to back up to a dock.

Anyway, the truck came with its own manual. I was ordered to read it. This was the very first thing I read: To open the door, hold onto the handle, push the button in with your thumb, and at the same time you're doing this, pull on the lever.

Someone actually felt it necessary to make that an instruction. My God, people. If a person lacks the understanding to open the door without explicit instructions my thinking is - DON'T TELL THEM HOW TO DO IT!

Back to my documentation days.

My boss was a wonderful man. Most of the time. To some people. He was an ultra conservative, which meant that he firmly believes God is a Republican. Whoever came up with this ridiculous notion is really going to be in for it when he/she stands before God at judgment. It's bad enough that they chose a political party for God to belong to. But that they chose the meanest and most hateful of all political parties only makes it worse. (Not that God would be any more pleased to be associated with the idiot Democrats. What a choice: Mean and intolerant; Stupid and unorganized; or the 3rd parties - Totally nuts.)

Ken was brilliant when it came to ideas. And if you were brilliant in any way he thought would help his career, he was brilliant in making your life better. For nearly three years that was me. Ken saw what I could do and promoted me, got me raises, and arranged for a very flexible and independent workplace for me. All of that suited me well and I thrived. Then Ken quit and went to work for another company. He wanted me to follow. The company I was at had no future so I figured, why not? It was a cut in pay, but I was assured that was temporary.

What I had not realized was that Ken was so d*mned political that - even before anyone met me - I was the most hated co-worker in the department. They didn't like Ken (he was the manager) and they certainly weren't going to like any "ringer" he brought in to show them up. So my department co-workers were ruthless in trying to get rid of me. I would have quit right off, except Ken had got me to promise I would stay for two years, and I hate to lie.

My problems only intensified when Ken realized that his purpose in bringing me to the new company could not be filled. He had to change plans. Those plans did not include me. Now, as wonderful as he had been when I was useful to him, he was terrible toward me because he no longer saw value. I was on my way out.

What saved me was a setup Ken and my co-workers assumed would be my death blow. You see, we were writing software, and the other programmers had done a horrible job. It wasn't all their fault. Ken was in charge of design, and Ken suffered from the disease of "Creaping Excellence". This is when one cannot pick a design and stay with it. Ken was constantly improving on what was - even when it hadn't been finished yet. The result: the most bug-ridden release in company history. The blame? I got it. I was new on the staff. No matter that I hadn't even worked on some of the worst areas of the program. It was my fault. The owner was unhappy with me, but she was a LOT nicer than anyone else in the company gave her credit for. Whereas Ken was considered this wonderful, honest, and nice man, Lori was considered ruthless, uncaring, and selfish. Wrong on both counts.

While the veteran programmers worked on fixing the mess, I was pulled off the project (so it could be done right) and given the secondary system to upgrade. My co-workers believed I would hang myself without their "help". Ken believed my co-workers. They left me alone to prove to Lori why I should be fired.

What happened was the secondary program was released with the fewest bugs in its history. And those which were there had always been there. Not only had I not created new problems, but I had actually repaired some old. My praises were being sung by everyone in the company - except those in programming.

Ken, true to form, shifted gears and I was back in his good graces. After two years without a pay increase, I finally began receiving the rewards I had been promised when I came.

What I learned, though, is that you cannot trust people who are political. None of them. They will support you only as long as they see you capable of helping them. Once that no longer appears true to them, they will turn on you. You are now an enemy. You are "evil". I find that conservatives seem to want to use that word a LOT. Everything which disagrees with them is "evil". There is no common ground. There is no middle ground. There is no compromise. My way, or the highway.

Eventually, I would fall out of good standing with Ken again. And finally, just before he was driven out of the company, regain it for a final time. Ken's last 'good deed' to me was to empty my personal file of everything he had put in it. A lot of what he had put in there was flat out lies. He destroyed it. When his replacement came on board, he showed my file. It was completely empty. Didn't even have my original application.

For that I guess I kind of owe Ken some gratitude. He gave me a clean slate to work with.

I feel bad about Ken. Were it not for his political nature he would be a great person. But that conservative politcs streak just made him mean and intolerant at times. He couldn't accept people who were not "like him". What a waste. I often wonder if he's learned anything through the years. Sometimes people like that do, you know. Sometimes.

Apparently not, though, if their name is Chaney or Bush or Pawlenty.

What a pity.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on My Daddy

Time for another Daddy story, I think.

While not tremendously huge, Daddy was a big man. He grew up from large stock. Every male in his mother's family was at least six feet tall. Don't know much about Daddy's daddy. He never married Daddy's mother. In 1924 that was a BIG deal. Daddy suffered for it all through his youth. But Daddy stood 6'2" tall, and by the time he was in his forties weighed around two hundred pounds. Only Daddy had been driving truck for a good many of those years. That was not two hundred pounds of fat. Daddy was solid.

As I have mentioned before, Daddy's relatives were cruel people. They tortured him - until he became large enough to put a stop to it. Once Daddy reached teenager size, the men left him alone. In that family that was saying something. They were mean, and they liked to fight.

They tried to break up Daddy's marriage. They didn't like my mother. This resulted in us not seeing them for more than eight years. Finally, Daddy's mother came to him and apologized. Something else that family was not noted for doing. But love will win out eventually. How long can a woman avoid her only child because she hates his wife? Grandma came to accept my mother - in her fashion. My mother reciprocated.

One of Daddy's strongest traits was his loyalty. He stood with people he knew were in the wrong for no other reason than that they had stood with him in the past when he was in need. He would never forget a favor. Eventually, he forgave wrongs. Something else his mother's family was not noted for doing.

For a while we lived next door to one of Daddy's aunts. It happened to be his favorite aunt: Julia. Julia had been the one person who had sought to protect Daddy from the torture inflicted on him by his uncles. She was the smallest of the nine children, and so it wasn't easy for her. Daddy never forgot it.

The family hated Julia's choice of husband.

Harold was just a little guy. Not much bigger than Julia herself. And he was nothing like his brothers-in-law. I remember Harold as being funny and fun.

The story is still told how one day one of Julia's brothers came to Harold's door in order to "rough him up". What my great-uncle (what a terrible use of the word "great") didn't know was that Daddy was at Harold's house that afternoon. When Harold opened the door, it blocked Daddy from view.

The brother-in-law became abuse and threatening. However, before he could exact any of his threats, Daddy had come around the door, grabbed him by the front of his shirt, lifted him off the ground, and told him there would be no fighting this day - unless it were between the two of them. When he set his uncle back on the ground the uncle ran to his car and did not come back.

Daddy was no-nonsense. He would have made a horrible diplomat. Arouse his anger at your own risk. He grew up in hard times with a hard life. I remember when the local drunk threatened to come to our place and kill our dogs (because they wouldn't let him out of the car to try and get at my mother) Daddy came home from the bar (yes, he spent more time there than was good for anyone) and stood in the yard with a deer rifle. When the police arrived they told him to make sure he threw the guy INto the house after killing him. Then shoot him again. That way he was legally protecting his family. But the man didn't return. Not when Daddy was around. Did come when it was just Mother and a few of us kids. Unfortunately for the drunk, Mother was no less inhibited about using firearms than Daddy. When he saw me rushing the shotgun to her, drunk man left and never came back.

Daddy also attended one parent-teacher meeting in his life. It was the meeting which took place shortly after a teacher had tortured me. Daddy went to the meeting and waited until it was time for parent questions. His hand went up first. He stood and announced why he was there and threatened to kill the teacher. I was never tortured again.

I suppose to modern sensibilities, these are horrible stories. But life was different forty, fifty, eighty years ago. People in the country were truly on their own. There was no police force to come and help. It could be two hours or more before they could arrive. (It took six hours for them to arrive the night of the drunk. And that was after they had been told about an incident involving a gun. There just wasn't enough police to cover such a huge area.) When our house caught fire it was already a loss before we even heard the sirens. There was no help in the country. None. Sometimes the nearest neighbor was miles away. We were on our own. And we learned to live that way.

I guess it's part of what made loyalty such a great prize. It was hard to be loyal. For anyone. So when anyone was, you knew you had a friend you could count on. Was it uncivilized? Absolutely. But there was no civilization to speak of.

For myself, I admire my Daddy more than any other man - or woman - I have ever known in my life. He was not a perfect man by any means. Not yours. Not mine. Not his own. But if I could even be like him I would know I would be twice the man I am. Just a little bigger. What I wouldn't give to know he was proud of me. I'll have to wait until I see him again.

I will, you know. Some day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Clearing Paths For the Next Generation

Have you ever played a musical instrument? Were you good at it?

I've never been good at any instrument, which is a pity as I so love music. Not the best singer, either. Got a voice like beef jerky: either you love it, or you hate it. I think most people hate it. I like it. But then I hear it from inside my head and not thinned out by the air.

My grandmother had a piano and I remember banging on the keys with my siblings and cousins, but nobody ever taught me anything. Daddy tried to, but he couldn't read notes. What he did was chord with his left hand and sound out notes with his right. His familiarity with the keyboard allowed him to quickly duplicate most any song he wanted, but his method of teaching was, "You got to hear it." Well, yeah, but that style of learning didn't suit me. I never learned to play piano.

The first instrument I really wanted to play was the harp. My introduction to it was Marx Brothers movies. Harpo would pluck a few strings and then do glissandos. The truth is, he wasn't really playing the harp. He was playing with it. My understanding is that he actually learned to play the harp, but not until after he quit making movies.

When I was in my late twenties I managed to convince Spouse to let me buy a harp. Got it from Chester E. Groth Music in Minneapolis, MN. I had walked in one day just to look at harps and Mr. Groth himself showed them to me. When I explained I didn't have four or five thousand dollars to buy one, he showed me a troubador harp for nine hundred. It was ebony. Thirty-six strings. No peddals. Levers were used to set the harp to play either sharps or flats. When Spouse agreed that I could purchase it, I raced to the store and bought it. Mr. Groth put me into contact with a harp instructor. I am so ashamed because I don't recall her name. She was an older woman who had played alongside Marcel Grandjany. When I told her about my Harpo Marx inspiration she became almost indignant. That was kind of like telling a famous chef you liked their filet mignon because of the ketchup. Spouse was (and still is) convinced she was in love with me. That's why when she changed the venue of our lessons from Chester Groth's music store to her house Spouse came along. I said she was more than twice my age and had no interest in my like that. Spouse wasn't convinced. I didn't argue. I was playing the harp. Spouse could be there if she wanted.

What made the harp so wonderful was that it sounds pretty - even when I mucked up royal. I brought it with me to work and would practice during breaks. I was developing a small following of people who liked to listen to me - especially when I learned the glissando. But mostly I did not use that technique. I learned to play notes. Even enharmonic ones, in which you change the note a single string plays. I didn't particularly like that because I wasn't that good at it. My instructor played it beautifully. After a few months she deemed me to have progressed to the point where she would play along with me, harmonizing to my melody. But before I really learned to play it - so that I could really perform before a real audience - I sold the harp for practical reasons. I was going to learn a trade to earn better money. One of the most stupid decisions I have ever made in my life. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb!

The second instrument I truly wanted to play was bass guitar. Always liked the tempo beat bass guitars added to the music I listened to. And when I saw an imitation Hofner in a Montgomery Ward catalog (company out of business), I knew I had to have one. But this was a nightmare for me. Not only was my family poor, but they were not encouraging about music for boys. My brother Mickey had wanted to join band, but my parents wouldn't pony up for the instrument. They did for Judayl. And Helvie. But not Mickey. And certainly not me. I wanted to play bass guitar. Left handed.

I forget how many times I was told (by everyone in my family) how nobody played guitar left handed. Daddy even went so far as to point out that they didn't make left-handed pianos. I'm not sure what the significance of that was. Didn't even at the time. But you didn't argue with Daddy. Of course, when the Beatles hit the U.S. and we saw Paul McCartney playing the Hofner bass left-handed I felt vindicated. But not in the eyes of my parents. That was Rock 'N' Roll. And there was no way they would fork over good money for that cr*p. So I did not get a bass.

Did get an accoustic guitar, but it was right-handed. I tried restringing it for left-handed, but even my instructor criticized me constantly about it and I wound up giving up. The only one who encouraged me was my grandmother, and I just didn't see her often enough. I'm not strong enough within myself to pursue my own dreams vigorously without outside help. That's why I have never succeeded.

When Lynahr was landed in the hospital with pancreatic cancer, I told Spouse I was going to go out and buy a left-handed bass guitar. I didn't ask. I told. My rationale was that I could die tomorrow, and I didn't want to die without at least having tried to play the bass. So we went out and I walked into a guitar store and stated what I wanted. The owner asked me how important it was that the bass be left-handed. I said very. Then he handed me a 5-string which had just come in that week. I bought it. I took lessons. Sixty dollars a month. Did that for five months. Then I lost my job and had to quit the lessons.

I have kept the bass, and I try to pick out accompanyment to some of the slower songs I have. Can do "Don't it Make You Want to Go Home", and "Reflections of My Life". For a while I was able to do "Year of the Cat", but I forgot it. Recently purchased a book of bass songs with a CD accompanyment. Been playing "Imagine" off and on. Mostly off. It's hard to play when I know I don't play well. And it's hard to play well when I don't really believe in myself. But I will still pick up the guitar and try at whiles, wishing I could play faster and with fewer errors.

Which brings me to the present. I have a son who is very interested in music. He also has been demonstrating talent. Real talent. This is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of two different instructors at his schools.

His first interest was drums, and we bought him a kid's drum set. But when he was old enough to try out for band he chose the tuba. He has been recommended for state band, but we can't afford that. He is the first tuba player to make jazz band in the school's history. And he is one of the very few sixth graders who have done it.

Recently, he began teaching himself keyboards. The school will only teach one instrument per student due to costs of time and money, and his instrument is the tuba. We can't afford other lessons. We have an autoharp I inherited from my grandmother, and he is learning that. I ordered an instruction book for him. It was only nine dollars. And he learned the recorder in an earlier grade, but he doesn't practice that much.

What he wants now is to add the tenor saxophone. That's about a two thousand dollar instrument. Without consulting Spouse, I offered that if we can make two thousand dollars at our garage sale, we would buy him a saxophone. Then we would find a way to come up with money for lessons.

Today, on the way home from his most recent jazz band concert, we stopped at a Schmidt Music store to price tenor saxophones. His band instructor said to let him know makes and models and prices and he would let us know which were good deals. While at the store, his mother looked at the prices and began to back off the agreement. (She had agreed after I told her.) I came down harder than I needed to, but I said we had made an agreement, and if we could keep it, we would. I'm going to do everything I can to encourage and stimulate this musical gift my son has. I have no clue how good he is really, or how good he can become. What I do know is that NO ONE who can participate in music has ever regretted it. They may have hated the learning, but knowing how to do it is always a blessing.

My son will be Blessed. I promised him that. I sang it to him for months before he was born, and after. In whatever way I can help, he will be Blessed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dumb Clucks

In the Bible, God refers to us as sheep. This is because we are so easily led. We think we're not, but we are. We tend to follow fashions. We watch popular television shows. So many of us are so keen to be part of what most everyone else is doing - all the while claiming our individuality.

Mad Magazine once did a spoof on advertising. I remember one they did for cigarettes.

Joe Schluff is his own kind of man. He smokes Goober Cigarettes because everyone else does.

So, we're sheep. But you know what? I've got another animal humans behave like: chickens.

Have you ever raised chickens? We did. Just for the one summer. It was Mother's idea. She ordered 100-chicks from some nursery and they came special delivery. We didn't have a chicken coop, so we let them run free in the porch. Guess who got to take care of them?

Most were white, but there were three reds and one grey speckled. Naturally, the grey speckled became my favorite. After all, it was the only one I could tell apart from the others.

It all would have been fine, I suppose, had we just moved some things out of the porch. But we didn't. That would have been too intelligent. So we left all kinds of implements and things there to be pooped on. And they were. Including our huge freezer chest. Imagine going out to get meat or something out of the freezer and having to bring a towel so you didn't get chicken poop on your hands? We were hillbillies. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

There was another problem with the freezer. It wasn't flush against the wall. Couldn't be. If it were, you couldn't open the top. So there was roughly one foot of space between the freezer and the wall. And every time someone walked into the porch the chickens would panic and run to hide. Well, the best place they found was behind the freezer. Now the freezer couldn't have been more than six or eight feet long and three or four feet high. This hardly is enough room for 100 chickens. So they piled one on top of the other - smothering those on the bottom.

The chickens also chose this place to roost at night. In less than a month our chicken population dwindled by at least thirty. Every morning it was my job to flush out the living chickens and throw the dead ones on the garbage pile. And one day it was my lonely task to pull out my speckled grey.

When the weather was nice we fixed up a small shed for the chickens. We also let them run free over the yard during the day. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, playing backyard baseball, tag, or anything else was no fun when one had to avoid the poop. On the other hand, our yard was notorious for wood tics. One could not walk fifty feet without picking up at least six. The record was eleven. However, once the chickens began roaming the yard, the wood tic population went down to nearly nothing.

There is another thing about chickens I wonder if most people are aware: they're cannibals and murderers. Let any chicken become weak or injured and the others will begin pecking at it. Constantly. No compassion. No help. Just harassment. The poor chicken will be worried to death. Literally.

Out of the 100 chicks we began with we finished with about fifty. They killed themselves. Well, mostly. Three neighbor boys, including my friend, Chris, shot about a dozen. They thought it was funny. Even after Mother called the police. Chris hung out with some really stupid and cruel boys sometimes. Eventually, he would grow up and they wouldn't. They stopped hanging out together. But that didn't help our chickens that summer.

We didn't do chickens again. Too much of a bother.

I wonder if God thinks something similar about us.

NEVER going to do people again. Never.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I write a lot about Stephen. It only seems natural to do so. He was an excellent friend.

But before Stephen I had others I did things with. Not so much at home, but at school. Ricky and Terry are my earliest friends, from when I was five. I met Chris and Tommy when I was six. Gary was when I was seven. Met Tim two years before Stephen. Dana was the same year as Tim. Dana got into drugs. Wanted me to join him. When I refused, telling him he was stupid for trying them, he turned on me and we were never friends again. I'm not sure, but I think drugs killed him.

Probably, though, the most obnoxious friend I ever had was Berny. Berny's family was something of a carbon copy of my own. A lot of kids (my parents had seven, I believe Berny's parents had five), and many of them matched up age wise. Berny was my age, and his sister, Heather, was Gayanne's age.

Berny was loud, not very gifted, physically, mentally, or creatively. But he liked to have fun without getting into trouble, and that suited me well. Most of all, he was willing to be my friend. Perhaps us both coming from poorer families helped. Those with more money tended to look down on us because we didn't wear nice clothes or have the new fancy gadgets. I had the added distinction of smelling like fuel oil from October to April. It was my job to fill the heaters every morning and evening.

Berny and I did not always get along. He was just so obnoxious. Of course, my saying that is a little like the goat telling the hog he's smelling up the barnyard. But Berny's stupidity also made him a bit pitiful. At least, to me it did. His sister didn't think so. And others loved to torment him. Me, being the strongest in my grade (and in fact strongest in the next two grades up), often acted as much like Berny's bodyguard as a friend. That was my unofficial job on the playground. When I saw anyone being picked on I would show up and thrash whoever was doing the harassment. I used to take on as many as four at a time. By the time I was in fourth grade if I told someone to knock it off, they did.

There is one image of Berny which never leaves me for long. It happened in the spring, when the snow was melting but it was still cold and wet. The ground was thawing, and so we kids were able to make "quickmud". I'll explain it to you, but I'm sure you made it yourself. Probably just called it something different.

Quickmud was made by finding a grassless patch of ground which was very wet - possibly with a small amount of standing water. The ground could not be packed hard or quickmud was not possible. We would stand in the middle with our feet side-by-side and begin stepping in place, churning the dirt and mixing it with the water. Eventually, the ground would become like pudding and the stepper would begin to sink.

Well, Berny and I found a place next to a large cement slab which protected an access to whatever was underground. We, and about a half dozen others, began having contests to see who could go the deepest - and still get out.

Berny had the lead for a while, but I was determined to beat him. Both Berny and I were wearing these high rubber boots, which is one reason why we could go deeper than most of the others. The other reason is we weren't nearly so smart.

Well, I got down to about one inch below the tops of my boots. I almost didn't get out. My foot came out, but my boot remained. After about ten minutes I was able to extract it. Gayanne and Heather were there and both remarked how stupid I was to risk losing my boot like that. I didn't care. I was winning. In fact, I believed I had won. But I hadn't counted on Berny actually being more stupid than me.

He went down until the mud was nearly flush with his boot. I kept warning him that he wasn't going to get it out, but he wouldn't listen. Sure enough, when he tried pulling his feet out, he couldn't budge. At first that was funny. It was still funny when his feet finally pulled free, leaving his boots behind. It continued to be funny when he couldn't pull his boots out. When it became apparent the boots were continuing to sink (and now filling with mud) it ceased to be funny. When the bell rang, signalling us to go back inside, he began to panic.

Heather and Gayanne, being two years older, both tried to extract Berny's boots, but were unable. Finally, Heather just made a comment to her brother and they left. Eventually, it was just Berny and me. He was nearly hysterical. I wanted to get to class and avoid trouble, but I just couldn't leave Berny. He was completely lost in his panic. Besides, I was convinced the boots could come out - if we just did it properly. So I stayed.

Eventually, we were able to get both boots out. They were both filled to the brim with mud. Once they were free and he was pouring the mud out Berny was laughing again. That was another reason I liked Berny. He could laugh at things. He put his boots back on over his muddy stockings and we walked back inside. We got in trouble for being late.

A couple of years later Berny's family moved away. I wonder whatever happened to him. Probably holding public office some place overseeing the banking industry.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There are Reasons for Everything

Been setting up our garage for the "big sale" which begins any day now. Officially, it starts on June 9th. Unofficially, it begins whenever we finish setting up. That's going to be days from now. It's amazing how much crud one accumulates in thirty, forty, and fifty years. Not only that, but our gift business still has a fair amount of inventory, too. Some of that we will be selling at a loss.

One of my sisters will be bringing some things to sell, and she and I exchanged some emails this morning about it. In them, I remarked how every room our house now looks like a disaster. The reason is that we've brought out nearly every table, desk, and stand to the garage. They will all (hopefully) be sold - so we don't have to move them. I told Judayl (my sister) that our house now looks as bad - or worse - as The Old House which burned down. "All that's needed is for Mom to show up and start throwing the dishes into the refrigerator."

Judayl emailed me back that she nearly wet her pants laughing. You see, Mother did exactly that.

Mother had her moods, and when she had one she was a terror to behold. She could be incredibly violent, and even dangerous to some people. She once chased a friend of Daddy's down the driveway with a cast iron skillet in her hand. Had she caught him she would have clobbered him and probably wound up in prison. I wasn't born at that time, but I heard the story from Daddy and my older siblings. Daddy had thought it funny, even at the time.

Regarding the dishes, she had come home a little earlier than normal, so none of us had been prepared. Generally, we had it timed so that the dishes would be done when she drove up. That way, she would have to look harder for a reason to be angry. Not that it was ever that hard for her to find a reason. But this day the dishes were not done, and Mother lost control.

Ranting and raving at Lynahr and Judayl (who's turn it was do to the dishes), she suddenly came upon a new and wonderful plan.

You don't want to do the dishes? Fine! Then don't do the dishes!

We all stood in amazement while Mother took first one plate, and then another, and threw them at the refrigerator. When she finished with the dirty dishes, she opened the cupboards and took out the clean ones. They were just going to get dirty anyway. And she smashed all of those, too. When she had finished, we had no breakable dishes remaining.

Now clean this mess up!

Like it was our fault. You know?

Poor Mother. I don't think life was ever that kind to her. Not that she went out of her way to court kindness. I used to put puzzles together all the time. I would take them to my room and do four, five, or even six at a time. Large ones, small ones, circles, ovals, rectangles, squares. All nature scenes. Mostly landscapes.

I remember having two 750-piece ovals, a 500-piece round, two 1,000-piece rectangles, and a 2,000-piece rectangle. It was a Saturday. The most risky day of the week. If we could but make it to noon all would be well. Mother generally didn't lose it after lunch on Saturday.

I thought we were going to make it. It was after eleven. So I relaxed and dropped down on the floor (no carpeting - wood - warped) and began alternating the assembling of puzzles. The ovals and round were already finished. All that remained were a few hundred pieces of the rectangles. And then I heard the familiar stomp of heavy steps on the stairs.

She came into my room first because my door was opened. Seeing my room wasn't in perfect condition, she began. Noticing the puzzles on the floor she shifted into high gear.

You can't work on more than one puzzle at a time!

She grabbed a shirt from the floor and began beating the life out of my puzzles. Pieces flew everywhere. I sat and stared at what had been a satisfying accomplishment. Without realizing it, I was ignoring her. She realized it. She tried yelling to get my attention, but I was too stunned to react. So grabbed a broom (she must have brought it with her, because I would certainly never keep an object like that in my room) and began letting the bristle end drop on my head. Finally, I turned and looked at her, thinking, "What the h*ll are you doing?"

She was finished. Now it was time for me to clean up the mess - while she moved on to Judayl's room.

I tried putting the puzzles together, but gave it up. Six different puzzles intermingled. I threw them away. Pity. You don't find oval puzzles anymore. But they wouldn't have survived the fire anyway.

There were a lot of reasons for Mother's behavior. Some I didn't learn until I was much older. But when her baby sister died, her own mother suffered a nervous breakdown and my mother was forced to run the house. She was twelve years old. Her older sister (Aunt Cile) had suffered from a fever when she was young and was not able to run the house. So Mother got the job. In the 1930s that wasn't a fun job for a twelve-year-old. She suffered her own nervous breakdown.

Mother is now past eighty years, and at long last she and life seem to be making their peace with each other. When she returned to her apartment after her cancer surgery she was amazed to find out how many residents in her building were eager for her return. She told us (Spouse, Son, and I) about it when we saw her on Mother's Day. She had become popular at last. Turns out, she's the favorite in the building. They think the world of her.

I should warn them about putting puzzles together in the common room, though.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who Am I

I wonder how much of the "me" that existed back in the 1950s and 60s still exists. Have I really changed that much over the past fifty-plus years? Or am I basically the same person?

Certainly, many of the things I enjoyed back then mean nothing to me now. Can't think of one quickly, because it seems to much of what was important to me then is still important to me now. New things have arisen in my life, to be sure. But that's just part of growing and I'm not sure my discoveries of love, passion, special foods, and whatnot actually changed me.

So many of my years have been spent trying to be "what I'm supposed to be", instead of what I wanted to be. I tried to guess the ideas of other people and conform myself to them. I never really wore that well and spent those years in great discomfort.

My discomfort now, I think, is that I am tossing aside the ill-fitting costumes I have taken from others, and I'm trying to wear something of my own - and I'm not used to it. The ideals of others don't always fit me. We're not the same size. You ever wear shoes that are too small? I have. We didn't always have a lot of money. Same with shirts and pants. I'd rather wear small shoes than small pants.

There are attitudes and philosophies I used to adhere to, but now am abandoning with reckless care. Is it because I have changed who I am, or because I'm simply no longer pretending to be someone I am not?

This was brought home to me the other day when I received an email from someone close to me. Twenty years ago I could have seen myself sending this email to her. She meant well, and she believed she was making a powerful and beautiful statement. It was powerful, but there was no beauty in it. I posted about it on Faith in Forgiveness, but before you rush to see what it was let me warn you up front it tends to be religious in nature. So if you aren't keen on reading Bible verses and such you might want to skip the read. I'll give the overview here, anyway.

Basically, the email I received (and was asked to forward to as many others as I could think of) was in reference to an alleged email sent by an engineering professor at Michigan State University to the Muslim Students' Association. Muslim students had apparently been protesting a Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed as a terrorist. The professor was upset about the protests and wrote the email, blasting the campus's Muslim population for hypocrisy, citing beheadings, ill-treatment of women, terrorism, and other factors as the "normal teaching" of Islam. He concluded by telling the Muslim students to leave the country.

As I indicated, twenty years ago I could have sent this email myself. I have never been one to appreciate protests of anything. Back in the 1960s I found the Vietnam protests to be stupid and unhelpful. Frequently, they resulted in riots, which (in my mind) discredited the protest's entire purpose. All my life I have shaken my head in annoyance at everyone who protests. Even when they're protesting for something I agree with.

But that wasn't my reaction to this email. This email brought me down. (Oh, isn't that hard to do, right?) All I could see was it was filled with hatred and intolerance. These are the things which separate people, not bring them together. These are the things which keep people from seeing "our" side. They keep us from seeing theirs.

I sent an email back stating quite strongly my opinion that this was NOT the message God intended for us to spread, and that in NO WAY was God happy with it. Hatred plus hatred can only equal more hatred. If that's what you want then, I guess, fine. But if you want peace, you have to start talking peace. And I don't mean in the way politicians do. You can see their deception in their eyes as they say things they don't believe or feel in their hearts. That's not talking peace. That's just talking. Diplomacy: The art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.

I didn't feel better for having sent it. Mostly because I felt bad that it had to be sent. The person I sent it to was quite happy, however. She said it was an eye-opener for her and that she would now pay closer attention to things like this. Good for her! I told her not to feel bad, because this is a lesson I've only recently learned myself.

Or have I?

Have I actually changed who I am? Or am I just letting it out now? Does it matter? My behavior has certainly changed. There is no way I can write, or forward, such an email now. The sequence of events needed to produce that are too improbable.

But who am I? And - what have I become? Anything? Or have I just stayed the same?

I really don't know.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perspective Changes Over Time

I was recently reminded of two people from my past. One is now gone and the other may be. They were both older than me.

Met them both at the same place. Denny was about ten to fifteen years my senior, and John was about ten years older then Denny. Denny worked as a mail room employee, filling bags, supplying machines with material. John was a custodian. Although totally different people, they had something in common: most people didn't like talking with them.

In John's case it was because of his hearing. He had been born with extremely poor hearing, and as a result his own speech was incredibly difficult to make out. Most people in the building didn't even try. Not only that, but because he spoke so poorly they treated him like he was stupid. He struggled with that all of his life.

I was one of just a handful of people who would actually stand there and work to figure out what it was John was saying. He would get frustrated with me. Even exasperated, when he had to repeat something for the sixth or seventh time. But when the lights finally went on in my head and I got it, he would relax and smile.

Since I was one of the few people who would listen to John, I became one of a handful of people John would actually seek out in the building. Most of the time it was such an effort to talk with John I actually felt exhausted when he walked away. I think he felt the same way. He wasn't always appreciative of my sense of humor, either. I was in my twenties, and treated a lot of things as irreverent. Still do, actually. He would see some safety issue, and I would see a joke.

I wasn't always nice to John, and sometimes used my humor to end conversations quickly. But if he felt whatever he wanted to tell me was truly important, he would beat aside my jokes and make me understand. I do not know what happened to him. It had to have been hard for him, having people think he was stupid because he spoke with difficulty. The man I knew was actually quite intelligent and given to a good sense of humor.

The place were we worked was a Christian organization, so often my humor was "inappropriate". For instance, there was this time when John closed down one of the women's restrooms so he could effect some repairs. I rushed out at lunch to the convenience story next door and purchased the following items: a plastic bucket; a can of Mountain Dew; a Baby Ruth candy bar. I set the bucket outside the restroom door, poured in the soda pop, unwrapped the candy bar and dropped it in - just as John arrived. He gave me a look. He knew he wasn't supposed to appreciate the humor, but the truth was, he did.

Denny was completely different. Something had gone wrong during Denny's birth and the result was permanent brain damage which affected his ability to ever become much more than a child. He was nearing his fortieth birthday when I met him, but his emotional level was that of an eight-year-old boy. He was an incredibly loyal employee, and took great pride in his ability to run certain mail machines. (His I.Q. was less than half mine, but when I started he was one of the people who taught me how to do things.)

Again, because I paid him more attention than most, and tended to not treat him as though he were an idiot, Denny attached himself to me. This was a far worse predicament than John because Denny had no sense of personal time or space. He was child. He was also like flypaper. One of the threats a co-worker used to use on me was that he was going to give Denny my home telephone number. Denny already had his. And that was the good part about Denny. Being a child, he would be friends with anyone who was willing to be friends with him. So there were several who were suffered upon by Denny.

My co-worker (Paul) came into work one day laughing. I asked him what was funny and he showed me a pen.

What's so funny about a pen?

I'll tell you. Last night Denny called me. I was trying to watch a show. Well, you know how Denny is. So I just set the phone down and every so often picked it up and said, "Yeah, Denny. Right." Then I would put it back down and keep watching my show.

I laughed. He never caught on?

Nope. Well, this morning when I arrived there was Denny, waiting for me. He handed me this pen and then asked me for five dollars. I said, "What for?" That's when Denny told me. This was the pen I had agreed to buy from his last night.

Spouse and I eventually consented to visiting Denny at his home. He lived with his aged mother. He wanted us to come over because he wanted to show us his Matchbox car collection. Denny owned a fleet of every Matchbox car ever made. He had thousands of cars. Every time a new model was released, Denny would go to the store and buy all they had. Paul once told me he was convinced the store deliberately ordered more than normal just because the knew Denny would buy them all.

He stored them in a giant Lego block garage he made from Lego blocks he purchased. I forget how many thousands of cars he had, but it was awe inspiring. And he didn't play with them. He just kept them in the big garage. I asked him how much money he had spent on them and he said he didn't know. But a man had offered him $28,000 for the lot. He just laughed at the guy. He had no desire to sell his cars. But Denny understood the value of money. He was quite cheep.

I recall when Denny got a credit card. My eyebrows went up and I remember thinking, "This can't be a good idea." But Denny was all happy and excited. He had gone to the store, showed his credit card, and got all of his stuff for free! We didn't say anything. What was the point? About a month later Denny came to work just mad, mad, mad. Someone was sending him letters in the mail demanding he give them money. And his mother told him he had to pay it.

Poor Denny. I remember learning the same painful lesson myself.

I feel especially bad about Denny. I eventually became one of his favorites, and as a result one of those who had to deal with flypaper all the time. When we had left his house he hung onto the side of the car talking and walking as I tried to drive away without running him over. We had spent five hours at his house. The last two trying to leave.

Eventually, I would try to avoid Denny. I deliberately hid from him. It wasn't nice at all, and I am not proud for having done it. Denny was just a kid. All he wanted to do was have fun. A couple of years ago I heard that he had died. From what, I don't know.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if I haven't become another John or Denny: a nice person who just gets to be too much sometimes. I guess that would be a fitting reward.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Searching For a Way

The opening to The Animal Kingdom is getting a bit of a roast over at Evil Editor. Click here if you're interested in joining the fun. Personally, I hadn't expected that large a response.

I'm not getting anything done. Think about doing things. A lot. Just don't actually do anything.

Guess I'm just looking for a way to get away. Not quite start over, but I'm looking for a place. Some place I'm not sure I've ever been. I remember a conversation with a counselor back nearly thirty years ago. We were discussing the likelihood that I had thrown away my salvation. During the talk I remember her asking me:

What is it that you want? I mean, really want? If you could have anything, what would it be?

I want to be happy again.

Again? Bevie, when have you ever really been happy? Can you tell me?

I didn't answer because I couldn't think of a time which qualified. But isn't that true for everyone? It seems everyone's life is so filled with sadness. None of us have a monopoly on it. But sometimes we just want to get away, don't we?

So I know what my desired solution is: I want to get away. This, of course, begs the question, Just what is it that I want to get away from?

Something I have believed far too strongly for far too long: That I can't.

Can't what? Anything, really. I mean, positive thinking is all well and good, but sooner or later, if one is to continue it, one must succeed at something worthwhile. That's not to say I've never done anything. There have been lots of things I have done for which others have commended me. But that's their idea of success. Not mine.

I have always wanted to entertain. Back when I was young and in school, I recall telling my classmates that the greatest gift anyone can give another is laughter. In laughing, one renews their strength to fight the battles which must be fought on another day. I would tell them, "I can't make things better for people, but if I can make them forget their troubles long enough for them to renew their strength I will have truly accomplished something."

My goal was to live a life in which I did that. Earn my living from it, even. I'm on the backside of my life. Even if I live to be one hundred I'm closer to the end than the beginning. And yet I have done none of the things I wanted to do. I have lived my life in fear of things which were not even fearful. I still do. The enemies of my soul are not others, or even life's circumstances. They are the thoughts in my own head. The feelings and beliefs which have become integral to my life. The familiarity of failure becomes my security blanket. I fear success because it is such an unknown. I have no idea how to live a successful life.

Of all my faults, this is the one which I fight against passing on to my Son. I am partially successful, I think. He asked if he could try out for band. I told him I thought that was a wonderful idea. He said he wanted to play the tuba. I said that was great! (It wasn't the instrument I was hoping for, but I didn't tell him that.) He has become very good at tuba playing. His grandmother loaned us a keyboard. He began teaching himself to play it. I told him how impressed I am. (He's getting pretty good, even without formal instruction.) Now he wants to add the saxophone to his repertoire. I said that's good, but we can't afford it right now. Undaunted, he is saving his money and offering his own things up to sell in our big sale which is due in three weeks. He's already made some money and has over $400 in a savings account.

I don't know what all of my Son's dreams are. It doesn't matter. What matters is that he believes he can achieve them if he goes after them. The question I have is this: Is it possible to teach something I don't know for myself? I'm hoping it is, because if not, then Son is going to have to learn this lesson from someone else. In my life, I can't honestly say I believe it to be true. What a waste of a life.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Rambling Mind is a Terrible Thing to Let Free

I apologize. This is way too long, but I've lost the energy to edit it. So be warned. Even for me, this post tends to ramble. You might want to bail on it and try again another day. Sorry.

Stephen wasn't much for writing and I was no great shakes at art. I sang in choir, but I had a voice like beef jerky (either you love it, or you hate it). Stephen never even attempted to join choir or band. I became involved in drama, but Stephen left that to his brother, Glenn, who was quite good at it. Regarding athletics, while Stephen was a better athlete, I was more successful. Stephen was always more emotional than me, although I have become far more so than I ever was. I was more sentimental, however. In many ways we were dissimilar. I was tall and strong. Stephen was short and quick. I think we may have looked like Mutt and Jeff. So how did we become friends?

The credit must go to Stephen. That is true for everyone who has ever been close to my heart. I am a responder, not an initiator. Spouse asked me out. And then asked me out again. I never asked Spouse for a date until after we were married. (Didn't fear the "no" reply so much. [grin]) Getting married was Spouse's idea.

Stephen was new to our school in ninth grade. His family had moved to our district from a Minneapolis suburb. Surprisingly, one of Stephen's summertime friends also moved to the area. That was Kevin, and they continued to be friends until college, when Kevin kind of just disappeared into the world.

Stephen was in my algebra class, but I didn't notice him. It wasn't until basketball season began that I even knew there was such a person. It was during basketball that he attached himself to me. Why, I'll never know. But it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I didn't want to play basketball. In fact, I didn't even try for the teams in seventh and eighth grade. But I had always been the tallest boy in the class, and in ninth grade I passed Sharla at last and became the tallest in the class. Pressure from coaches, teachers, and students eventually got the best of me and I signed up.

No one ever taught me to play basketball. All the coach cared about was that I got rebounds. So I couldn't dribble well. I couldn't shoot well. I wasn't aggressive because I didn't want to hurt anyone. And I couldn't keep up. I remember our guards loved to fast break, even when it wasn't there. Craig, who I don't believe ever got much taller than five feet, would try race down the court and do layups. I lost count how many times he was blocked by some six foot forward or center. But I would exhaust myself trying to keep up, finally spending my time in the middle of the court, always half a play behind the ball. I was a horrible basketball player. I was probably as bad at basketball as I was good at baseball.

The truth was, baseball was the only sport I really cared about - until Stephen taught me tennis. That's because no one would let me play what I wanted. I didn't want to be the center in basketball. I wanted to be a forward. In football, they saw how big I was and made me a guard. I wanted to be a wide receiver. Mickey had taught me to catch everything, and I would have made an excellent receiver. (Craig, our five-foot wonderboy, was our wide receiver. Sheesh.) I didn't block well and the quarterback and running backs constantly yelled at me - and any other guard or tackle who didn't get the job done. I remember the quarterback kicking me in my b*tt when I bent over to start the play. He never should have done that. I knew better than to drag his a*s all over the field. He was popular with the coach. But I got my revenge.

Before EVERY play, I would tell the defensive lineman across from me which side of me to use to reach the quarterback. Then I would pretend to block the guy and just let him through. Our quarterback spent a lot of time laying in the dirt. I didn't play football again until my senior year, when I was again co-erced into it. Actually played well that year. We had a new quarterback. But I had both my knees broken at the same time, which kind of ended my career.

But back to Stephen.

We became friends during the freshman basketball season. I felt bad because Stephen was probably one of the best players we had. But he didn't get to play. I was one of the worst. I started every game. Such is the fairness of high school sports. Stephen wasn't part of the "In Crowd". Neither was I, but I had the distinction of being the tallest player on the team. What would happen is that I would go out onto the court and foul out by the end of the third period. Then I would sit with Stephen, Joe, and the other benchwarmers and enjoy the rest of the game.

Stephen also played baseball. But our roles were reversed here. He wasn't very good at it, while I excelled. I would eventually be moved to varsity, where the older players resented me being as good as them and let me know it. My old teammates resented me being better than them and let me know that, too. Kind of took the joy out of playing. It also affected the quality of my play.

After we got our driver's licenses, Stephen taught me tennis. I thought it was a "sissy" game. (Anything I couldn't do was "sissy", which is funny now. I have very much become the "sissy" I used to try and hide from. To be honest, I'm happier with it. It seems more honest.) Actually, Stephen didn't teach me tennis. He just got me out on a court to play. We didn't know the rules and only had vague ideas of what the lines were for. So we played it like table tennis, the only tennis we knew. By chance one day, Kevin's family was at the court next to us. He looked at me and asked me what the score was. I told him, "Sixteen to ten." Horrified at our ignorance, Kevin then proceeded to teach us the rules of tennis. It became one of Stephen's and my favorite activities.

During the summer months we would often play six or more hours a day. We spent all of our time together. Stephen taught me about food, such as eating spaghetti with mushrooms, chinese egg rolls, and fried rice. I don't recall teaching him anything about food. He made me put on a swimming suit and actually try to swim. Until then I was terrified to even try. He taught me that it was all right to want to do the things I wanted to do. Most importantly, he accepted me for who I was, despite the many times I was subjected to, "You idiot!" Stephen made me feel happy I was me, because I was the one Stephen liked. I don't know what I gave him, but he must have got something from me. I wonder what.

We never lived together, despite being best friends. Not sure why not. Might have had something to do with the fact that Stephen seldom had a job. Now I don't have one. It's probably best, though. A lot of friends cease to be friends after sharing an apartment or flat. We never did, although we did suffer a couple of separations. Always, it was Stephen who came looking for me. We're separated again. Some day he's going to come looking for me again. Some days I wish it were now.