Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Weight Watch Page

Here is the link to my June Weight Tracking.

Starting the month out eleven pounds down from the start. Ended the month thirteen pounds down from the start. That's only a half pound per week average. At least the overall trend was still downward.

EDITED: June 30th - Updated Weight Chart available for June 28-30.
(failed to meet monthly goal)

EDITED: June 27th - Updated Weight Chart available for June 21-27.
(did not go well)

EDITED: June 20th - Updated Weight Chart available for June 14-20.

EDITED: June 13th - Updated Weight chart available for June 7-13.

EDITED: June 6th - Updated Weight chart available for June 1-6.

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Making and Recalling History

Today's topic is writing assignments. I came up with it because I used to write for the Evil Editor blog a lot more than I do now. There are weekly writing assignments, generally in the 200-300 word length category. These are good exercises for learning to say something in few words. I don't submit so often anymore because there's so much going on right now I don't have time to catch the inspiration and write . How I miss the days of youth when I seemingly had time for everything I enjoyed. They days were longer or something.

I remember we would occasionally get writing assignments in school. When the assignment was like a research paper I tended to wait until the last moment and toss together something to get a grade. When the assignments were creative in scope I would get all excited and rush to begin writing at every moment.

Mrs. SJ would announce to the class after story time: Okay. Now I want each of you to write a story about a little dog who gets separated from his family. Print. Use a whole sheet of paper. Turn it in tomorrow morning.

Most of the class would react with, "Oh, cr*p!" I would be excited.

The following morning papers would be handed forward to the front of the room. Some students wrote in extra large letters. Some didn't even try. They only used a half sheet. A few would continue to a second page. Mine were always five to ten pages.

I love to tell stories. I love make-believe. I love relating historical events. J.R.R.Tolkien wrote that he "much prefers history, true or feigned" over allegory. At my age I find I much agree with him. Allegory is a hammer beating upon a nail. It forces an idea into the thoughts of its readers. History is a park. There are paths leading to ponds, shrubs, wildlife, and a host of other things. Visitors are free to walk these paths and spend as much time admiring the beauty as they will. Nothing is forced. It is just there.

It's why, I suppose, I spend so much time relating my past on this blog. That is real history. Those things really did happen. And the people who were with me really existed. It seems a shame and even a waste to let those memories fade away without being shared. Those people who shared those experiences with me were important people. Many are no longer here. They shouldn't be forgotten. And often, I am the only one remaining who remembers what happened. And so I tell the stories. I try to keep them alive. Stephen. Daddy. Grandmother. These were people worth knowing.

The problem, of course, with my method of relating these stories is I follow no pattern. The timeline is not set. One day I may relate something from my early twenties, and the next I'm five years old again. Then it's back to junior high. The result - over time - of this wild and undisciplined approach is that I'm not always sure what I have, or have not, written about. And the history of this blog is now large enough that I don't always have the energy to search back to see. Between that and just being older I find myself repeating things. I expect in time I'll be some blabbering old fool who continues to relate stories despite not even having an audience. Saw a few of them at the place where Daddy's mother wound up. Old people sitting in wheelchairs mumbling to themselves.

Still recall the time I left work in the middle of the day and drove to see Grandma. It was on a whim. I had never been close to Daddy's mother. She was so prim and proper about her house. She wasn't a children's grandmother. She was an adult's grandmother, so I was only really getting to know her when she died.

I entered the place not even sure where I would find her. By chance she was sitting in a wheelchair in the main hall. Her head was down and her arms were folded across her lap. When I got her attention she perked her 6'0" frame up and was all animated. She made sure to tell every person who came by that her grandson had come to visit. This was after Daddy had died. Daddy had been her only child.

I didn't stay long. The place was so awful I felt uncomfortable. So we talked and then I left. Mother visited Grandma the next day. Grandma complained that no one had been to visit her in more than a week. She didn't remember that I had been there.

For a long time that bothered me. Then I realized something. When one is in a prison the days tend to meld together into one. Monday might just as well be Thursday. Spring is summer and fall is winter. Morning or evening. What does it matter? The food sucks. The atmosphere sucks. No place to go. Nothing to do. This wasn't a place to live. It was a place to die. No wonder she remembered it wrong. She probably remembered I had been there, but had since taken so many naps it felt like days had passed. Time had no meaning for that poor old lady in a nursing home prison. Except that it went on forever.

Was that my future I saw? Or, as I dearly hope, will I just go to sleep on my birthday one year - and wake up to see Daddy and Stephen waiting to usher me home?

What a tale that will be! Except I won't be able to tell it to you. You'll have to wait to get to heaven to hear it. Kind of worth living for. Don't you think? [smiles]

Monday, June 29, 2009

Living in a Quiet Place During Storm Season

It's severe storm season here in Minnesota, and while other areas of the state have experienced tornadoes, strong wind, floods and such, nothing at all like that has happened here at our little place in the state. We've had a couple of thunderstorms, but they were mild things. The weather sirens have not gone off (except for the first Wednesday of the month at 1:00 p.m.). The poor guy across the street has only sat out in his garage once. It was before dawn to watch the latest fizzle pass through. He likes to sit in his garage and watch the truly strong storms pass through. Personally, I think he's nuts. But then I walked out last year and collected a bowl of hail to bring in and show Spouse and Son. Like they'd never seen hail before. Did you know that being struck by a piece of hail just slightly smaller in size than a Hershey's Kiss hurts like h*ll? Well, duh to me. We just recently took the bowl out of the freezer and let the ice melt. It had all kind of globbed into one giant ice cube anyway.

The Old House used to stand in the middle of Thunderstorm Alley. It seemed if there was a major storm anywhere in the state it took a straight course for The Old House. It must have been built by the finest craftsmen in the world, for rickety as it seemed, even the shingles never blew off. Trees fell all around it. Mighty oaks, standing guard, cracked off at their base, or were torn up by the roots. But The Old House always stood. It took Daddy's clumbsiness to burn it down.

There was no real safe place to go during a storm at The Old House. Unlike this house. The utility room is about as safe from a storm as one could hope for. But The Old House had no such safe havens. The basement was filled with poisonous gas. We didn't know it at the time, but it was also damp, musty, and incredibly creepy. NOBODY wanted to be down there in the dark. Fifty to one hundred yards away was the root cellar. It was a structure built into the side of a hill. It was rectangular in shape. Four cinder block walls and a wooden roof. A chimney in the center. Dirt floor. It wasn't exactly a thrill to be in there, either, but often we kids were sent there for our safety.

Still recall the time Judayl was in the bath when a major storm hit. We had no sirens back then. Everything was gauged on senses: sight, sound, smell (yes, you can smell a storm coming), and sixth. When a big oak tree in the front yard toppled Lynahr screamed for Judayl to get out so we could all rush to the root cellar. Judayl came out wrapped in a towel and clinging her clothes. I had to stand outside while she got dressed. Hail hurt just as bad back then. And Judayl wasn't one of those "get the clothes on and you're done" kind of people. Have no idea what she did, but it always took her forever to get dressed. So by the time they opened the door to let me in, the worst was over and we could return to the house. Got to see a lot of flying debris first hand.

We were often out in storms back then. Without a true safe place to be it became the stirred ants' nest every time there was a threat of tornado. Our decisions never made any sense at all. Even at the time.

The year before The Old House burned a major storm struck on Helvie's birthday. We were having a family party and Mickey and Lynahr were home with their spouses. It was night. The storm began to rage and the house began to shake. Fearing the house was about to be blown apart Mother cried that we had to get out. So everybody ran out of the house. In our added brilliance we decided that sitting in cars would be safe, so we all piled into three cars to wait out the storm.

Then Mother saw the shed which housed our chickens. The frequent lightning flashes lit up the yard better than the yard light - which seldom worked. She gave me the order. "Bevie, go nail up that rug again so the rain can't get in at the chickens."

Dutifullly, I went. I raced as fast as I could through the downpour. No hail this time, but the rain was coming down so heavy it felt like hail on my face. I got to the shed and looked inside. The chickens were huddled against the far wall. I rehung the rug and turned to run back to the car. I could see everyone waving at me. And then it happened.

One minute I had my eyes focused on the car. The next I was staring up into a black sky. Then I landed with a thud. The water was halfway up my body. That's how hard it was raining. I lay there stunned. I had run into something. Looking, I saw it was the d*amn guidewire on the utility pole. It had caught me right across my neck and down across my chest. I got up. I was one hundred percent wet now. Looking at the cars I saw everyone was laughing hysterically. No need to return to that. I went into the house.

Turns out the reason they had all been waving at me was because the rug had fallen again. They made Gayanne go out and fix it. Within minutes everyone was back in the house. The house still shook, but not so bad. The storm was passing. I became the focus of everyone's laughter for the rest of the evening.

Sometimes I miss the storms. There is something exciting about them. I know they're dangerous. People get injured and killed from storms all through the summer. But, like the neighbor who likes to sit in his garage and watch them, there is this urge which beckons us to get out and experience the storm with our skin.

It hurts, you know. Especially if there's hail.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Life's Journey and Helping Someone Else Fly

An era is over. Never again will it come again. Its time has passed, and a new era has taken its place. C'este la vie. Right?

I'm talking about my son. For years whenever Spouse and I both left the house son was required to come with. He was just too young to leave home alone. Then, he reached the age where he could be left home for short periods, such as when we just had to run to the grocery store and back. Recently, he became old enough to leave home all day while Spouse and I worked. Then I lost my job and was home anyway. But in those times when Spouse and I needed to leave to go to the store Son was eager to tag along in hopes of getting something cool. Or just to be with us.

No more.

Now when we go shopping we get the question: Do I have to come along? Or: Can I stay home?

It's never going to change, is it? He's discovered the joy of personal space and personal decisions. When I'm not home he gets full and uninterrupted access to the computer. Besides, hanging out with Mom and Dad isn't always fun. Especially not in a store. Fortunately, he still likes to come with us to the zoo and to parks and to bicycle. Remembering my nieces and nephews I am guessing we only have a few years left of that.

It's a difficult time we've entered. But it's necessary. If things follow the natural order then Son is not going to have us around for the rest of his life. He needs to learn how to make his own decisions, live with the consequences, and learn what it means to have personal space.

I expect there will be a strong pulling away which will last a few years. Then, after he becomes comfortable with his new life, there will be a return - of sorts. It will never be like it was. He's only entering his teenage years now - a difficult time for everyone - but when he finally leaves them behind he will be a man, not a little boy.

It's the way it should be, of course.

Hopefully, Son's transition through these teenage years will be far less confrontational than mine were with my Mother. With Daddy I never really got to that point. He died before I left high school. There was the time he punched me in the mouth. I'm not likely to have such a confrontation with Son. In his nearly thirteen years I have only dealt with him physically four times.

Twice I cracked the top of his hand with my finger because he was hitting his mother. I used my finger because it hurts to hit something with the side of one's finger, so I knew I wouldn't hit too hard. I know those who are against corporal punishment are probably appalled, but I felt it was warranted. He was being openly defiant, daring me to do just what I did. He hit one day and then again the next. Both times he felt the side of my finger rap the top of his hand once. I told him: You hit someone and someone is going to hit you back. If that's what you want, fine. To my knowledge he has never hit anyone again. Certainly not his mother.

The other two "physical" punishments I gave were "time outs". Son was kept in his room while I sat in the doorway waiting for him to settle down. I sat in the doorway because it was inconvenient for me. It is my firm believe that punishment should cost something to dole out. Something important. That way there is a lower chance of over punishing. So I sat in time out with him.

All four of these incidents took place before Son was four. Maybe even before he was three. Believe it or not, I have never had to deal with him again. He just doesn't disobey. He doesn't argue. He doesn't whine. If he thinks I'm wrong he tells me. And he tells me why. Sometimes he's been right, and I have corrected my own behavior with apologies. When something goes wrong he comes to me and tells me what and how it happened. I don't punish accidents - or honesty. It's been wonderful. Hopefully, the past years of love and acceptance will get us successfully through these teenage years.

I have many memories of my teenage years. Some are happy. Most are not. I have warned Son ahead of time about how some things will be, and why. It is quite normal for teenagers to be ashamed of their parents. It is quite a shock to come to the realization that Mom and Dad aren't nearly so brilliant, beautiful, or successful as one used to assume. It feels like a betrayal to learn they are just regular people like everyone else. In time, the feelings of betrayal depart, to be replaced by genuine love and acceptance. But it's always disappointing to find out the truth about those we once kept on pedestals.

My goal is to avoid the mistakes of assumption my parents made. I have at least one advantage over my parents in this: I am ten years older than they were when I entered the same period as Son. While I'm not keen about everything age has brought me, there is one thing I am grateful for. I have a better perspective on others and what really matters. I no longer get upset over things that used to make me fly totally out of control. In the past ten years the only times I have ever reached that level of anger has been when Son has been threatened. Otherwise, I have learned it doesn't really matter.

So Son is getting older, even as I am. He's just forty years behind me. If I can just do my job right, it won't be nearly so stressful for him as it was for me. And maybe he can avoid some of the social pitfalls which have taken hold of me and become something far more. The potential is certainly there. My family held me down to the ground. I want Son to fly. Let him explore the heights I never knew. Let him discover who and what he is, knowing I will always welcome him back when he feels the need to visit.

But sometimes I miss the little boy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Literally Translated

Since I can remember I have had what the principal at my school described as, "A very different sense of humor." He told that to my mother after she had been called in for a school conference regarding my disruptive behavior in various classrooms.

It wasn't that I was assaulting people, or breaking furniture, or running around naked or anything like that. It was words. I couldn't resist them. And there is no better straight man than a teacher (male or female). Brilliant as they are (and I read a study which proved that, as a group, teachers are the smartest people in the world), teachers become so focused on what they are teaching they fail to heed alternate interpretations of their words. In my youth I was completely unable to resist pointing out these alternate (and literal) translations to anyone who may have missed them.

What made teachers such fun targets was that (in my school days) few teachers had much of a sense of humor in the classroom. That doesn't appear to be so true today. At least, my son's teachers seem to use a lot of humor in their classrooms. It releases stress and allows the students some freedom of expression. Ultimately, it gives them a tool to control the class. That wasn't the way they looked at it back in the 1960s and 70s. Back then, students who's minds worked quicker than the teachers' were considered "bad". I spent a lot of time on detention. Lynhar's husband made the joke that they actually scheduled it in at the beginning of the year.

According to Mother, what the principal told he was, "Bevie is not so much a 'bad' student as disruptive. Bevie has such a 'different' sense of humor." Mother laughed and said the whole family was like that. Of course, none of my sisters, nor Mickey, spend as much time in trouble with teachers as me. Ranlen had troubles, too, but of a different kind. He actually knew more than the teachers who taught him (Ranlen was an avid reader of college level science books) and they didn't like that at all.

Sometimes my sense of humor goes over quite well. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. Still recall sitting beside the department manager at a big department meeting. It was question and answer time. One employee, I'll call him Rufo (not his real name), was one of those people who just could not be satisfied no matter what effort was being made. His hand shot up first and the manager acknowledged him. Now this manager was not a people person, but he understood that about himself. He had been working especially hard to make life better for employees, offering what he believed were major concessions. So imagine his dismay when Rolo stands and voices this question: "What is being done to improve conditions for employees?" The manager was dumbfounded and stood not making a sound.

I couldn't resist. In a very cheery voice I blurted out for everyone to hear,

Well, I guess that answers that then, doesn't it?

Some people thought it was funny. The manager didn't.

Probably the person most victimized by my love of making fun with words is Spouse. Well, probably isn't the word. The sentence would read far more accurately simply by omitting the word "probably". But you see, Spouse is one of those unguarded people who is so serious about life and the world around them. It's a target I can't resist. The child in me surfaces all the time. Sometimes Spouse acknowledges the humor. Sometimes Spouse can get - angry.

I am reminded of this by something Spouse said yesterday. Son thought it funny, too. (Son has learned my word humor very well, which I believe is why Spouse no longer finds it so funny anymmore. There's no end to it.) We had gone out bicycling after lunch. I had eaten spaghetti while Spouse and Son had cereal and a sandwich. My lunch was telling me to go home, and so we split up. Spouse wanted to know if I would be all right getting home. I said I would be fine.

When Spouse and Son came into the house I was at the computer. Son sat down beside me. Spouse walks up to me and asks, "Did you get home?" Son and I started to laugh. We knew the real question: "Did you get home without getting sick?", but since Spouse didn't word it like that it became a comic moment.

This is what makes Spouse angry. We know the real question, but we only react to the words. It's hard not to.

When Spouse gets stressed, or extremely busy, her mind works much faster than her mouth, but her mouth always goes first. This makes for some very amusing statements. Such as when we did the garage sale a couple of weeks ago. My sister was visting to help. We were all exhausted and none of us wanted to cook a supper, so it was agreed we would order from Carbones, the best of the local pizza delivery restaurants. Spouse went into the house and came out with a pen and paper.

Now it should be pointed out that we always get the same thing, with only a couple of modifications. We get a large sausage-mushroom (and sometimes black olive) pizza for Spouse and myself, and a small cheese pizza for Son. Sometimes I will get spaghetti with meatballs and mushrooms. But now we had a fourth person sharing the meal. Spouse wanted to confirm her recommendation.

I was thinking of getting two large sausage-mushrooms and a pizza.

Judayl and I both immediately envisioned giant sausages and giant mushrooms and began to laugh. Spouse re-entered the house with a noticable slam of the door. A woman who was perusing one of the display tables commented, "You're in trouble now."

I went inside and found Spouse sitting on the stairs with the portable phone.

I'm just going to order what I want and not worry about the rest of you.

I was appropriately contrite and apologized profusely. It was only half accepted (because I was laughing at the same time). But Spouse forgives.

Good thing for me. It still makes me laugh. Kind of like a friend of mine, after he had fallen down the stairs and broke his arm. His wife stood over him in shock and horror. "Do you want me to call you an ambulance?" she asked. He started to laugh.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Youthful Old Thing Going Through Second Childhood - Or Something

Yeah, I know. Books, Movies, Songs. It's review day. Sorry. Just did one for Inkheart on The Great Sea a couple of days ago. Or was it yesterday? Whenever.

Leilani Tahi Amorey posted a comment in response to other comments in which she mentions taking one of those online quizzes. Those are silly things, but sometimes fun. The one she just took is a "How Old is Your Soul" quiz. She didn't post a link to it so I just did a google search and found three.

QuizFarm, which seems to be geared to a younger audience.
Quizilla, which I liked best.
MyYearbook, which was really short.

So, I took all three. Did so within a matter of a few minutes of each other. Got three different results. That sounds like me, all right. All confused.

Anyway, MyYearbook gave me this: Your soul is as old as the hills. You have lived more lives than you probably should have...maybe because of an important lesson not yet learned. Your soul has seen the human race rise and fall so many times because of a misjudgement and the unknown. Your goal in life is to learn as much as you possibly can about anything and everything, keeping your closest friends and family at arms length. This is probably one of your last lives. You may have one more before you souls journey is complete.

How cheery. Not sure I agree with the results - except the part about this probably being one of my last lives. I'm of the mind that we only get the one.

Anyway, QuizFarm did okay. It didn't have much to say, but it provided a cool chart.

You Scored as 20-35
You are in your prime, but are feeling a little up-tight about life. Chill out!

20-35 ......... 65%
Age 36-70 years 60%
Age 13-19 years 45%
Age 71+ years . 15%
Age 0-12 years .15%

And finally, there is Quizilla, which provided an embed object.

How Old Is Your Soul?
Your Result: Adolescent

Rebellious, Angry, Confused, and Misunderstood is you right now. You often feel separate from others and disconnected from reality and take many of the wonderful things you do have for granted. You may be considered to your peers as a social misfit or outcast because of how you choose to express yourself at this point. Experimentation is important here because you are beginning to learn the lessons of life and of others. The worst is over now for you so can look forward to a happier adulthood where you have a better understanding of who you are. Don't forget to take risks during this period and rise up to challenges that normally you may be too lazy to try. It will pay off later.

Adult

Senior

Child

Toddler

New Born

How Old Is Your Soul?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz


You know I don't necessarily mind being labeled "rebellious, angry, confused, or misunderstood". Not sure I appreciate being labeled "childish" and "lazy" though. I'd take action - but I just don't have the energy. So I think I'll just sit about, mope, and suck my thumb. Then I'll feel better.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Life of an Ant

When I was young I used to enjoy watching the ants around the yard. Not the entire yard. There there small red ants along the sandy driveway. These would make what I am sure were lavish tunnels below surface, bringing up the grains of sand one at a time and piling them around their little escape holes. The uniformity of the mounds they created was beautiful. Occasionally, there would be a two- or three-level place. In a very short time there would be dozens of this little mounds spread across that portion of the yard where grass just refused to grow.

As the giant in their world I felt compelled to inflict tornadoes and rain upon them. Having no control of the real weather I would use the hose for rain and an inverted hoe or rake for the tornado. Undaunted by my cruelty, the ants returned to work and rebuilt their little city time and again.

My behavior reminded me of a Charlie Brown (Peanuts) comic I once read. Lucy is talking to Charlie Brown. She describes the work of ants and how they built this incredible structure. Then, in a moment, it was gone. Aghast, Charlie Brown asks what happened. Lucy replies, "I kicked it over." Yeah. That's what kids do.

In the back yard some larger ants had made their nest in the side of a large oak, where Daddyhad hung the tire swing. There were red ants here, too, but mostly black ants. These ants were harder to annoy as they had built their home in a tree. No self-made tornado was going to bother them. And rain didn't go much into that hole they had made. But they took their lives in their hands (feet) every time they crossed the space below the tire swing. We didn't pay any attention and I'm sure more than a few lost their lives crossing that grassless plain. Why they just didn't go around I'll never know.

There was a third place where ants had built a home in our yard. It was in an area we didn't go to much, although it was close to the house. A large tree had once stood on this spot, but at some point in time, for some reason, somebody had cut it down with a chainsaw. In, and around, this stump was a monstrous colony of giant black ants. There had to have been thousands upon thousands of them, constantly milling about like the churning of a bubbling hot spring. The activity was so immense it looked random and aimless. Yet the colony could not have survived such a long time without each ant having a purpose in its work.

Disrupting this mass was easy to do, but hard to notice effect-wise. The whole pile was just a disgusting, churning mess anyway. Occasionally, we would toss in leaves and things like that, just to see what the ants would do with them. If an object was small enough, the ants would remove it. But some twigs were just too large for a single ant to move, and they didn't collaborate in this regard, so larger sticks (two or three inches long) remained.

I suppose watching ants back then was kind of like having an aquarium, or living beside a deep flowing river. The endlessness of activity was hypnotic, and I would periodically find myself going to the hideous mass of black and just watch without intruding. Once, Ranger, my idiot part shepherd part lab mutt dog, found the ant pile and dug in it for a bit. Then I got to see the giant white eggs being hauled back to safety. I suppose Ranger thought it must be interesting since I was staring at it but, finding nothing on his own, he left it alone after that.

After the house burned the ants were gone. I doubt they were all destroyed, but where they had maintained their houses was just as gone as ours. The heat from the house destroyed the grass through the roots for a nearly fifty foot radius. This may have eliminated the little red ants. They were too close. The ants in the tree probably survived the fire's direct impact, but their tree was killed, and it was pulled down by a large piece of demolition equipment and pushed out to the back field and buried. Maybe they survived that. Maybe they didn't.

The ants in the giant mass simply left. As far as I could tell their home had not been directly affected by the fire. But after The Old House was gone, so were the giant black ants. It's like they were somehow connected. Don't know where they went.

The New House always seemed sterile to me. There was no place where nature could find its way in without using a door or window, such as been true with The Old House. Insects, snakes, rodents. The Old House was a safe harbor for all of them.

There were still red and black ants about the yard, but not like before. And the giant ants were gone completely. As was the lush yard we had maintained. (It was lush on three sides of the house. On the north side the grass just didn't want to grow.) It seems ironic now, looking back. The only things we ever did to maintain the yard was mow it ever other week in spring, summer, and fall, and burn it off once a year to remove thatch. That made it the finest yard within miles. Then, fire destroyed it. Too much fire lasting too long with too much heat. The root system was gone. Like the giant ants.

I had occasion to return to the site a couple of months ago. The yard never did come back. It still looks thin and weedy, although the property looks less sterile now. Trees and shrubs have filled in a lot in the past thirty years. But apart from the plants it all looks like decaying junk. It hasn't been kept up well.

I wonder if the giant ants ever came back.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's a Man to Do

In a poetry mood today. Wrote one for one blog, and now this one, too. Trying to get in touch with feelings, I guess.

My poetry is not the best. Hopefully, it's not the worst. I tend to maintain the same cadences, so all of my poems eventually sound the same, I suppose. Doesn't matter. Poetry is a direct expression of the heart - when it works. This one only kind of works. It didn't express everything I wanted, but I'm not up to revising it. It's a first go. Seldom will I revise a poem.

What's a Man to Do
by Bevie James

There was a time when I was young and fate was in my fingers

That time is gone now, long since past, yet memory still lingers

Young and strong, invincible, that’s what I was in youth
Now old and feeble, that I am, at last I face the truth

When hope was something I wore each day, I did not fear the days
Now hope is stretched, and needs are strong, I cannot find my way

To trade today for yesterday, sometimes I think I would
But I knew not then what I know now, there’s no way that I could

Suffering life’s realities, that’s what aging means
Hope, belief in one’s own strength, from that is what I’m weaned

Though cynically I face my life, a spark of life remains
For hope will never die in me, it is my life’s refrain

So when I cry and feel down, a frown upon my heart
I prune myself like shrubs in my yard, and then I just restart

Perhaps that is what life’s about, the seasons of a soul
Spring and summer wend to fall, and then through winter’s low

But winter warms and what’s frozen melts, and life begins anew
So periodically I cry, just what’s a man to do

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Country Rube on City Streets

Both Randy and Stephen loved to drive in Minneapolis. I hated it. I was not then (and am not now) a city person whatsoever. But I'm not as "country" as I used to be either. Stephen and Randy lived in the country but loved the city. Whenever they drove it seemed inevitable that we would find ourselves driving down Hennepin Avenue, or somewhere in the warehouse district. Hennepin Avenue was bad enough for me, but the warehouse district was downright scary. Especially at night.

What would be especially funny about my fear of the city was that in the late 1970s I would find myself working at 13th and Hennepin from noon until nine at night. Then I would have to walk from 13th to eighth and Hennepin to catch the bus home. Although never assaulted, I was accosted a few times by panhandlers. And I learned to walk on the opposite side of the street from Mousey's. Mousey's was a bar from which several prositutes operated. It burned down, purportedly from arson, in 1980. The women used to take their jackets off and wave them at me like bullfighters taunting the bull. Only this bull never charged. (It was cash only in those days.) I still recall sitting at the bus stop one night when some guy plops down right next to me. He was so close I thought he was going to sit in my lap. Before I could react his arm was around me and he was whispering in my ear: Hey. Do you want a twenty-five dollar chocolate bar?

The offer was so incredible I actually looked at him instead of pulling away. He had the most odd smile on his face. My look had to have revealed my ignorance (stupidity) because he repeated his question. Then he glanced over his shoulder, causing me to do the same. There, standing behind him, was a very cute young girl with big brown eyes looking at me. Although slow, I finally understood the gist of his question. In that brief moment we shared eye contact, and I felt so sorry for her. The guy shook my shoulder and I turned back to him.

I don't have twenty-five dollars.

Poof! He was gone. And so was she.

That's what Hennepin Avenue was like in those days. Might still be like that for all I know. Sitting there waiting for the bus I saw lots of pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and the like. Don't think gangs were a problem back then. I never had any problem in that regard anyway. And the prositutes weren't really a problem. Embarassing was more like it. They were not afraid of anything as a topic of conversation, and they didn't care who overheard. I suppose they got a kick out of seeing someone like me turn five shades of red while they stood where I couldn't help but see and hear them and talk about what kind of underwear they were (or were not) wearing. I was pretty much a rube.

Stephen and Randy loved being around this. Made me uncomfortable. I had no real clue on how to function in such a society, so I avoided the city when I drove. But when Stephen and Randy were driving we wound up at Hennepin Avenue. Or the warehouse district.

I recall one evening. It was kind of late. We were bored. It was still too early for us to make our appearance at the local J's Pizza, so Stephen drove to Minneapolis. We're scooting about through the warehouse district when I see something that concerned me. I sat up.

Turn right!

Obediently, Stephen made the right turn.

Turn right again.

Stephen did so.

Turn right again.

Again, Stephen cooperated without question. I looked, but what I had seen was gone. Stephen now voiced his curiosity.

What did you see?

There were these two girls. They were backed up to a wall. It looked like a couple of guys were harassing them.

And just what did you expect us to do about it? Who do you think we are anyway? Starsky and Hutch? C'mon, Bevie. We'd be afraid of the girls.

Oh. Yeah. Well, they're gone now anyway.

They were probably together.

I suppose.

Well I'm getting out of here before you find some way to get us into trouble. Let's go.

That was fine with me. I hadn't wanted to be there in the first place. In that place one never knew what was going on. But then I was always clueless about things like that.

I was such a rube.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I'm Going to be Thankful One Day - Or So I've Been Told

It's graduation season around her. Went to the neighbor boy's graduation party the other day. He was all happy and excited. I envy him his enthusiasm.

Oh, to do it all over again.

What a pain in the a*s that would be.

I didn't fit in at school. Wasn't part of any clique group - until I accidentially formed one consisting of other outcasts. Then non-outcasts began joining and soon I was kicked out. Odd how things work out sometimes, isn't it?

Growing up I had a vague sense of being different than my classmates. Mostly it was because my family was so much poorer than the others. Most of the other kids in the neighborhood, and at school, wore better clothing. Their parents drove better cars. Their houses were newer. They had better bicycles and most of the latest gadgets. They talked about taking trips, and doing things to which I just could not relate. But that wasn't the only reason I was an outcast.

None of my classmates came to school smelling like fuel oil in cold months. I did. All the time. You just cannot wash that smell out of your skin, no matter how hard you scrub - with Lava Soap. Ouch!

I also had a very off-the-wall sense of humor. I could - and did - make fun of anything, everything, and everyone. Including me. Few people can tolerate being made fun of. Not sure why. I've endured it all my life. It seems to go with being alive, doesn't it? Anyway, few of my classmates (and even fewer of my teachers) liked it at all. But I didn't care. And I wasn't afraid to tell them so.

Perhaps that was their greatest objection to me. I told them I had no problem living without them. I didn't need them in my life, and they didn't like that at all.

Midway through my senior year things changed. Daddy died. He had died on January 4th. After that I no longer felt a part of the world around me. As I think about it now I realize something: that has never changed. I still feel disconnected. It's like a part of me is gone which should not be gone. It's a strange feeling actually. Lonely. But I've always been lonely, I think. That goes back to my earliest memories.

I avoided the yearbook cameras after that. I did not go to the photography studio to get a senior picture, so I had no photos to exchange with anyone. But that was all right for, just as I had predicted, no one asked. Well, nearly no one. Two girls from the grade below asked. No one from my class.

When graduation neared I did not participate in any of the pre-ceremony activities. Was forced to attend the rehearsal because that took place during school hours. But I requested no tickets for family members. When asked why I said it was because I was not intending on being at the ceremony. I was criticized by the principal, but I told him I didn't give a damn what he thought. One teacher understood. Mrs. K. She was my creative writing teacher, and she always worked with the senior class, especially during graduation. She said she was glad. She didn't say why, but I expect it was because she understood it was my decision and not someone else's.

Unfortunately for me, I did attend my graduation. I was not happy about it.

Mother had waited for me to tell her about the ceremony and such. She never asked. My guess is that she knew the date and time but wanted me to ask her to come. She did things like that. I wouldn't ask. Didn't. So it was never talked about. Then, on the night of the ceremony, about two hours before it began, she asked about it. (This is why I think she knew all along. But she was distressed to learn I could actually out-wait her.)

Aren't they having a graduation ceremony for your class?

Yeah. I suppose.

When is it?

Whenever.

She was angry with me for not telling her, but I started up the stairs. Didn't matter to me. In two hours it would be too late. But I hadn't reckoned on Helvie. Helvie told mother the ceremony was that night. I was ordered downstairs.

Why didn't you tell me?

Why should I? I'm not going. Why do you want to?

You are going! Get yourself ready. Right now.

I don't want to go.

Yes, you do. You'll thank me for this in twenty years.

And so I was made to go. I was angry, angry, angry. And since I hadn't requested tickets, Mother and Helvie didn't fare too well, either. They had to sit up in the bleachers instead of in the nice chairs close to the stage.

I stood in line while strangers came by to shake hands with the graduates and congratulate them. As soon as protocol allowed, I was out of line and turning in my robe. Mrs. K was handing the real diplomas to graduates as they did this. When she saw me she smiled.

So, you came after all.

I had to. Mother made me.

Oh. I'm sorry.

Various classmates who had treated me like dirt and sh*t for twelve years now came up to me with big smiles and talked about how great it was going to be. Then they all said the same thing: See you at the class reunion. I gave them all the same response: No you won't.

I have kept that promise. The only classmates I have seen since high school have been Stephen, Randy, and Chris. Bumped into a couple of others by accident, but have never sought out those who once hated me. Never saw the point. If I didn't matter to them then, I wasn't likely to matter to them now. I would like to know what happened to Vicky, though. Didn't seek her out because she got married right out of high school. Didn't think I would be appreciated. [smiles]

This year marks the 35th anniversary since my graduation. I had no party. Not really. Two weeks after the ceremony Mother invited my brother and sisters to the apartment (we had lost the house after Daddy died and moved out of the area). Stephen called that day. He had spent the time since graduation searching for me. Coincidentally, he found me that day.

It's been 35 years, and now I look back and remember what Mother told me that evening: "You'll thank me for this in twenty years." I didn't thank her. Won't. After 35 years I'm still not thankful. I should have stayed home that night.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Count the Cost BEFORE - Not After

Math. I was always good at it. There was even a time when I thought I should be an accountant - until I discovered what a dull life that would be.

I like numbers. Always have. They're like a story unto themselves. Two people can take the same numbers and come up with completely opposite conclusions. Don't believe me? Try listening to economists, politicians, and pollsters.

So much of life can be reduced to numbers and equations. I used to get into that kind of stuff, but then I found my mind isn't quite so beautiful after all. Deluded. Just not beautiful.

I prefer simple math to the complex equations. Perhaps because I prefer a simple life to one more complex. It's not that I don't care. It's more like wondering if it's all really worth the effort. Not sure it always is. Some things are. Most definitely. Not always easy to identify, though.

I've always prided myself on my ability to do basic arithmetic. Not much to be proud of, I know, but we all have to be good at something. It's frightening how many people can't do simple math. When I was in high school I took bookkeeping. (I think I've told this story before. If I have, please bear with me. I'm old.) There were four of us who led the way in the "practice set" - two quarters in which we pretended to be the bookkeeper for a small company. None of the four of us used the adding machines (pre-calculator days, folks). Then, one by one, members of our foursome became "tainted" with the machine. As that happened, the "sinner" would invariably fall behind - never to catch up. In the end there was just me. I never used them, and I finished a week ahead of second place. Not only that, but out of nearly two hundred students, I had the only perfect paper.

What a drag. To have achieved my fifteen minutes of fame at the age of seventeen doing a practice set for bookkeeping class. It's been all downhill since then, folks. Sigh.

So, with all of this brilliance in my head regarding numbers one would think I could so some basic arithmetic and save myself a headache. No. No such luck.

I could have done the addition, to be sure. I just didn't. So what was the arithmetic? Here is a small table of numbers. There are three columns. Five rows. For each row, multiply column A by column C. Then multiply column B by column C. Then total the results. What do the numbers represent? I will tell you after the math.

040.....1.0 .....06 .....240 ..... 06.0
060.....1.0 .....08 .....480 ..... 08.0
100.....1.5 ..... 12 ..1,200 .... .18.0
080.....4.0 .....02 .....160 ..... 08.0
035 ... 1.5 ..... 20 ....700 ... ..30.0
===..=== ..=== .==== .. ====
315 .....9.0 ... 48 ..2,780 .... .70.0

Now, the numbers which ultimately matter in this little exercise are the totals for the two rightmost columns: 2,780 and 70.0. What do they represent? Can you guess?

Well, I am on a supposedly serious quest to lose more than 100 pounds in less than two years. Been doing all right. Sometimes it's been hard, and other times it's been harder. The numbers above represent what happened yesterday.

I was hungry.

However, not wishing to be "bad" about my weight, I found some very low calorie, low fat items. The first column represents the number of calories PER SERVING of each of the five things I ate from noon until nine at night. The second column represents the amount of fat (in grams) PER SERVING. The third column is the number of servings in the package.

By multiplying the number of servings by the calories and fat, one gets the total amount of calories and fat for the ENTIRE PACKAGE. My diabetes doctor has told me that I should NOT be eating more than 2,000 calories in any day for any reason. A person my size (6'6") should have at least 20 grams of fat each day, but NEVER more than 40 or 50.

Note the totals: 2,780 and 70.0.

Can you guess how much of the contents of those five packages I ate yesterday afternoon and evening? Yep. I ate them all. Forty-eight servings of low-fat food. Wasn't I being good?

It was like Homer Simpson with his little wafer crackers. His daughter, Lisa, told him they were only 40 calories. Then he piled every kind of meat and cheese between two, ate them with relish, and congratulated himself for only taking in 40 calories.

Also kind of like this variety show from the 1970s I saw. This monster of a man stood before the audience extolling the wonders of weight watcher foods. He mentioned a tiny weight watcher pizza. "They're great! I had six of 'em for lunch."

The diabetes doctor told me I could have even "fatty" snacks - except for one thing: his read on me was that I had no willpower to stop once I started. Doctor reads pretty good. That's what doctors get paid the big bucks for. What do I get paid? Nothing in gold, silver, or spendable currency.

I get guilt. I know how to add. Now I have to do some more subtracting.

Sigh.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Brilliant Teacher - Who Taught Foolishly

Daddy was a brilliant man. Probably one of the brightest I have ever personally known. However, his conscious efforts at instruction were far from inspirational. I think the problem was that things came so easily to him he had a difficult time understanding when those he sought to teach were having a difficult time.

He tried to teach me to play piano. The problem was, Daddy couldn't read music. He played 'by ear', sounding out the notes and using his experience to chord properly. How does one teach someone to play by ear? There were no finger exercise, or note reading, or anything like that. He just showed me what he did and expected me to repeat it. H*ll, I didn't even recognize most of the music he played. It was old country western and folk songs which were not played on any radio station I listened to. He gave up on me learning music. I'm sure he thought I was hopeless.

I still recall the day I was home sick from school and he told me he was leaving and would be back at a certain time. I asked him how I would know and he realized I didn't know how to read a clock. (This predated digital, folks.) So Daddy sat me down at the table and drew about a half dozen clock faces on a sheet of paper. Then he proceeded to tell me how to tell time.

You ever try to learn something when you're sick? It's hard to concentrate. Not only that, but Daddy was impatient to be leaving and so was rushing his 'lesson'. Finally, he gave up and stormed away. I remember he got drunk that night. When I returned to school I mentioned to my teacher what had happened and she sat down with me over lunch and taught me how to read a clock. I waited up for Daddy to come home. Thought he would be so happy that I learned how to tell time. It didn't go over well that I had learned from my teacher and not from him. Poor Daddy.

Daddy did teach me how to handle guns. That he taught well. And I learned it. Do ANYTHING with a gun that was not supposed to be done - and you get slapped. Hard. That might seem harsh, but the consequences for being stupid with a gun are permanent. The worst beating I ever saw Daddy give anyone was to Judayl, who thought to be funny by pointing a shotgun at me. She was hoping to scare me away, but I just looked at her and smiled. "I'm telling Daddy." It was all I needed to say. She turned white. No. I learned about guns. With the exception of the ground, NEVER point a gun at something you are not intending to shoot. They are not toys. Treat them like they will kill you: because if you don't they just might.

What was probably the funniest lesson Daddy ever tried to teach me was driving. I was sixteen. I had taken the classroom training. (Back in those days it was part of school.) I had passed my written exam and could now drive with a licensed driver. Mother started teaching me in the big Chevy, but Daddy wanted me to learn how to drive a manual transmission. That meant the pickup. The old pickup. The very old pickup. With the crappy transmission.

Shifting between most gears in the old pickup wasn't too bad. But second to third was a nuisance. It required a double-clutch. I didn't always remember. Daddy had me drive around the big block. This meant a mile to the north, three miles to the west, a mile to the south, and three miles to the east. We lived on the corner.

We hadn't even made it halfway when things went - awry. I was trying to be especially careful because the ditches here were about ten feet deep. Swamp lined both sides of the road and I was nervous about not staying on pavement. Daddy chose this place to have me experiment with downshifting and upshifting. I forgot about the double shift. I was also riding the clutch. He told me to watch my feet. I thought he was speaking metaphorically, for I knew I was supposed to watch the road. Then he started yelling and pointed at my feet. "Look where you have them!" So I bent over and looked.

Unfortunately, in the process of looking I also managed to turn the wheel. The next thing I hear is, "What are you doing? Look where you're going! Stop! Stop! Stop!" So I stopped.

We were almost off the road.

I don't remember the next five miles. I do remember Mother yelling at me a few days later and telling me Daddy had told her I was so incompetent he would never take me driving again. I doubt he used the word "incompetent" (Mother just liked to embellish in order to make us feel especially bad), but Daddy never rode in a car I drove again. Ever. Of course, he only lived another year-and-a-half.

Daddy was a brilliant man. But heaven help the person he tried to teach anything to.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Movie Review

It's been quite a while since I've posted about a movie (I think). When I started this blog it had been my intent to regularly recommend films. Instead, I tend to drone on and on about my personal history.

Well, today I shall return to my film critique, and I shall do it with a film I had never meant to go see. Randy took me. Randy was very into "artsy" films. So was Stephen, but this was at a time when Stephen wasn't around, so Randy just took me.

The film is called, Dersu Uzala, written by Akira Kurusawa and based on a book written by Vladimir Arsenyev. Kursusawa also directed the film.

It's a Russian Film, made back in 1975. It stars Maksim Munzuk as Dersu Uzala, and Yuri Solomin as Captain Vladimir Arsenyev.

The blurb on the VHS box reads thus: This exhilarating film tells the story of the friendship between Vladimir Arsenyev, a well-known Soviet explorer, and his guide, Dersu Uzala. They share a primal understanding and mutual respect for the beauty of nature. Dersu Uzala has a very deep wisdom for nature and knows how to survive in the wilderness. But Dersu has grown old and his eyesight is failing. After ther perilous journey, Arsenyev implores him to live with his family in the city. But city ways do not make sense to dersu, and he must return to his home, the forest, forever. It's the story of man's unity with nature and of the struggle for survival in the vast and predatory wilderness.

It is a very low-action film, often omitting dialogue entirely. It follows the friendship from its inception to its conclusion. We watch as two men discover a bond of love and friendship.

Like I said, I was not keen on going to the film the first time I saw it, but I found myself caught up in it and never noticed how long it is (142 minutes). I expect it is the film's closeness with nature, and the presence of simple friendship, based on nothing but friendship, which captured me. I purchased the film on VHS a number of years ago and will watch it every few months when I have a day alone. It's not the kind of movie Spouse likes at all, but I think Son is getting old enough to tolerate the lack of action.

The movie has no strong social statement to make, although modern civilization and city living are not presented in fair light. If you can rent this movie, or get it from a library, I think you will enjoy watching it.

I do.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sometimes We Don't Know Ourselves At All

Judayl, my sister, was over to help with the garage sale last week. She missed Hectic Wednesday, when several hundred people showed up and we made nearly as much in one day as all of the previous week. But she was in time for Slow Friday, when 25% of our sales was to ourselves. (We had made hot dogs on the grill again, but with no one showing up we had to eat them or let them go to the garbage. I hate throwing food away.)

While she was here one of our conversations turned to cats. Judayl has a cat. Used to have two, but one suffered a stroke. It came up again that people who don't like cats usually tend to be people who aren't that nice in general. That has been my experience. However, before you get yourself all up in arms and critical of this "rule", let me point out something else: there are a lot of people who THINK they don't like cats, but really do.

One case in point is my brother, Mickey. Mickey always said he didn't like cats. But then, he was really never around them. Oh, we had cats as kids, but Mickey didn't pay them any mind. If he wasn't playing sports he was cleaning the house. He never had time for cats. Our cats were all permenently outside. No lap cats in our house. To interact with a cat at our place one had to seek them out. Mickey never did. He said he didn't like them. So what happens?

Years after leaving home and starting his own family, Mickey's wife wants a cat. She likes them. Mickey is confronted with an awful choice. One we all make often. Accept something you don't like because you love someone, or offend the person you love most in the world. Mickey accepted the cat into his house.

When we visited his house afterward, it was not unusual to see Mickey petting the cat. And later, when a large tom showed up at his place, Mickey let it stay. The tom eventually became Mickey's favorite, and when he grew old and had a stroke it was Mickey who cried like a little boy for having to see his friend put down. People who hate cats don't act like that. They continue to hate cats no matter what. Further, they don't seem to show that much compassion toward people either.

It's like law enforcement tells us: people who torture animals eventually torture people. There is something wrong with them.

People who hate cats - and I mean really hate them, and don't just think they do because they've never interacted with them - generally hate other animals, too. And people.

I've known dog lovers who claim to hate cats. But these people seldom have cats, so how do they know? It's like I told my son as we were coming home from the dentist the other day. I used to think I hated mushrooms. I had never eaten a mushroom. But I knew the people who liked them and the foods they tended to like. They liked radishes, onions, turnups, cabbage and the like. These were all foods I knew I didn't like, so I saw no reason to even attempt eating a mushroom. Then Stephen convinced me to try some with my spaghetti. (It's hard to say no to those we love.) What I learned was that mushrooms are great. Now I eat them all the time.

After Baby Boy died I did not want another cat. When Spouse brought Firestar home I was angry and didn't talk at all. I tried to ignore the new kitten. Why? Because I knew what would happen the minute I started to pay attention to him. I would fall in love again, which meant that one day I might suffer tremendous pain again because this kitten would grow old and die before me. That is such an awful thing to bear.

Perhaps you are one of those people who says they hate cats. I expect you believe it, or you wouldn't say it. Yet you say you are a decent person. No better and no worse than most people. It it is true that you are a decent person, then my guess is that you just don't know. Which is fine. Just don't be cruel to cats.

If, however, you say you have no trouble torturing cats (and I mean not just imagining it, but doing it), then I would say you aren't so decent as you think. Cats, dogs, birds, horses, cows, pigs - the ability to love any creature means you have the ability to love them all. Love is not selective. It's all-encompassing. But it's hard to love what we don't know.

Often the grumpy and mean people we see in life are actually hiding behind a facade. It's a defense mechanism from being hurt. If they make themselves unloveable, they will not get close enough to another person and be hurt when that person goes/is taken away from them. It's kind of a last defense against emotional pain. Sometimes, they are exactly what they portray themselves to be. But often I think they are just hurting people. A cat could do them wonders. But it does hurt when they die.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Remembering the Fun

Frequently from high school through me early twenties I was either alone or with Stephen and one other. Sometimes the one other would be Randy, and sometimes it would be Chris. Every so often both Randy and Chris would be present, and even more rare my brother Mickey would join us. Mickey only joined us when we were doing sports, and often Randy was not present.

Stephen and Randy got along well nearly all the time. Stephen and Chris were always competing against each other. I was always in the middle between Stephen and Chris. It wasn't needed with Randy.

Our activities seemed to center around two main activities with Chris: tennis and billiards. Playing tennis was fun. It was nearly always two-against-one, rotating so each of us played with the others and by ourselves. What was funny about this is that when I played alone, I won easily. When Chris played alone he won. But Stephen did not. Stephen lost every time, whether alone or partnered with one of us. And yet Stephen was the quickest. In several ways he was the better athlete. But he never won. The power of friendship, I guess.

Billiards was a different matter. We didn't play teams. We played "cuthroat". One of us would own balls one through five. One would own six through ten, and one would own eleven through fifteen. The idea of the game was to be the only one with balls on the table. Chris usually won these contests, but Stephen won a fair share, too. It was an amazing stroke of fortune whenever I won - which wasn't often.

When we had this house built I found myself availed of the opportunity to purchase a very good (but small) pool table. I jumped at the chance. It's still set up down in the game room. I offered to give it to my brother-in-law, who pastors a church in Wisconsin. Thought it might be nice for the young people. But he had no interest. I expect he too strongly associates pool with bars and drinking. It's such a good table I will probably dismantle it and take it along when we leave.

Chris and Stephen sometimes came over and played. I recall playing against Chris once. I was blabbing away like I always do, not really paying attention to what I was doing. Chris just sat quietly listening and watching. When I dropped the eight ball to win he got up and said, "I don't mind racking for someone who just ran the table." Surprised, I realized I had just sank eight balls in a row. Not something I've done very often. Especially when I am restricted to solid or striped colored balls. Of course after he pointed it out to me I hardly made another shot.

There was one form of pool which I was good at, though. Bumper pool. My mother purchased me the table as a Christmas present back in 1973. It was a round table, and very cool. I immediately became very good at it. I kept records of every game ever played, complete with scores. In time, I got good enough that I could make any shot on the table in three tries, and most with a single try. Still have that table, too. It's pretty beat up now. I had taken it down because one of the supports was broken. Put it in a storage area and left it for a few years. Took it out just recently when we cleared out those rooms. The felt is all moldy. Recovering a round bumper pool table is not going to be easy. Or cheap, I imagine.

It isn't the same anymore. Stephen's gone. Randy went into isolation. I don't see Chris anymore. Even Mickey is out of state. But there was a time, and sometimes it doesn't seem so long ago, that we knew how to have fun. The knowledge is still here with me. It surfaces in memory. Sometimes life has been quite fun. You know?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is My Road a Cul-de-sac, Or is the Bridge Just Out

Been to the sleep apnea doctor. That was an ordeal. They sent us directions, but to the wrong place. We got sent to Edina. The appointment was set up for Plymouth. Fortunately, we had arrived early - but at the wrong place - so we were only fifteen minutes late getting to the place we were supposed to be.

No CPAP machine at this time. In order to get one I will have to go through the night of torture. It's been too long since I was last tested for him to grant the machine without testing. Not sure why. It's the same machine for everyone.

Not that it matters. My insurance runs out in a very short while, and the insurance won't agree to purchase a machine for sixty days. By the time the insurance will buy the machine, my insurance will have run out. We certainly won't be buying it on our own. Last fall I lost the argument about whether to keep COBRA or let it go. Lost each of the succeeding arguments which followed. Could certainly use that money now. Not sure that the benefits of having COBRA have outweighed the loss of money. That's always been my argument and why I wouldn't have it now were the choice solely mine.

As things are now, I will not be taking the test and I will not be going on the CPAP machine. I see no advantage in doing either anymore.

Looking for a place to live right now. In fact, Spouse is on the telephone with a place recommended by the city building inspector. Doesn't sound like it's going well. We checked out some townhouses for rent in our sister city, but the places within our budget are already gone. In fact, the "many places for rent" has been reduced to one. One too expensive for us.

No need to panic at this time. We've still got eight weeks before we're on the street.

What I find most amazing about all of what is going on in our lives right now is that, miserable as it seems sometimes, we needn't look hard to find people who would love to change places with us. It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

The world is filled with unhappy people, unhealthy people, lonely people, destitute people, fearful people, and so and and so on. I have met people online who are suffering. Wish I could help them, but I don't know how.

I have made more than a few friends online. Lost a couple, too. Found out it hurts as much to lose a friend I've never seen as it does those I've known face-to-face. This is definitely a crossroad year. Whatever I've been expecting to happen is probably going to happen within the next six weeks. Only time will tell what it is.

Life goes on. It waits for no one. Not even me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Break From the Hub Bub

Well, the garage sale is over. For now. We're taking this week off because the last two have completely exhausted us. Was it worth it? Yes. We got rid of a lot of things and we earned a fair amount of money. We didn't make enough to buy the saxophone we wanted, but that's okay. We're setting that money aside for now and renting one. All of the rental payments will go towards the purchase of an instrument. In the meantime, Son is teaching himself to play.

It was kind of fun in the story - Ekroth Music, in St. Cloud, MN. After determining we were not going to purchase an instrument, the woman at the store steered us toward an excellent student model. A Cannonball. She set Son up to play and had him give it a go. His first two efforts produced no sound at all. She coached him about how to do it and he made a single note. Then we began the paperwork. While we were doing that Son continued to work with the saxophone. Within fifteen minutes he was playing songs. The woman said she believed he would do fine. "In fact, it's scary how well he's picking it up."

I contacted Son's band instructor from school. He will meet with Son after July 4th. (He's going out of state to visit friends/relatives for a couple of weeks.) We're also going to contact Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN, to see about formal lessons. It's all pricey, but I'm looking at it as an investment in Son's future. Every musical instrument he has ever picked up he has done well with. Drums. Recorder. Tuba. Autoharp. Keyboards. And now Saxophone. Daddy was like that, and it looks like Son has inherited some of his grandfather's talent. To develop it honors God. To let it waste is a waste.

Today I go to the sleep apnea doctor. NOT looking forward to that. Answered the big questionaire. Spouse helped (because some questions are about whether I quit breathing during the night). Spouse laughed and said it seems more like she has sleep apnea than me. But my heart doctor is convinced I have it. My heart IS swelling, which is a symptom of sleep apnea. It also happens to be a symptom of diabetes, but because I'm so fat my heart doctor is convinced I have sleep apnea. According to the tests taken seven years ago I am borderline. I've always been borderline. As long as I don't have to go through the night of torture.

I suppose the reason I didn't fare well with the CPAP machine is that I am borderline. Those with definite, or even serious, sleep apnea problems, are so helped by the machine that they feel wonderful because of it. My symptoms are so minor that the machine becomes an encumberance. I'm just trading problems. So are the others, but when the benefits so outweigh the detriments it doesn't matter to them. For me, it's the reverse. But it's the only way to get my heart doctor to stop yelling at me about it.

There is another problem. (Of course there is.) My COBRA insurance runs out this summer. Once that happens I will not be able to afford the machine. Or my diabetes medicine. Or my stomach medicine. Think we can still swing the heart medicine.

I suppose there are some who would say the CPAP machine and medicines are more important than the saxophone. You're wrong. My son has a future. A real future. My future is make-believe. It's a mist, without any substance. It doesn't matter. Not really.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Losing Streak

So, it's going to be one of "those days" today. Started a post and deleted it. Been here and done this before. Several times.

Today we return to our garage sale, and if I wasn't enthused about it last week, today makes last week seem like Mardi Gras. (An interesting analogy as I have never been to Mardi Gras.) But I'm not enthused. Probably because this week marks another ending. Starting on Monday we have to shift gears. Got some doctor things to get done. Hate those.

The first visit, on Monday, is really going to s*ck. It's with the sleep apnea doctor. I'm going at the insistence of my heart doctor, who is convinced I have sleep apnea (because my heart has begun to swell) and insists I get the effing machine to help me breath through the night so I'll "sleep better". Right. Wore that effing machine a few years back. Hate it. Never slept so poorly in my life. But doctors don't give a sh*t about that. All they care about is what they know. They know what keeps a person alive, but they haven't a clue about what makes a person happy. Just being alive doesn't do it. I'm sorry. It doesn't.

Next week we need to begin looking in earnest for a place to live. Hate that, too. After all, it's not like we've got any money to live anyplace nice. When the choices are between two kinds of cr*p, does it really matter anymore? But it has to be done.

Health and home. They both kind of s*ck right now. And there are indications I might be losing my online home, too. My computer refused to reboot over the night and this morning. I finally got it to run (obviously), but I'm concerned it's dying, too. My possessions, my body, life in general, seems to be in a constant state of decay.

Oh, good! I just looked out the window and see that it's raining. There's nothing like having a garage sale in the rain. We'll be packing 'em in for sure.

Oh, well. It could be worse, you know. I know this is true because things keep getting worse. Every year since our personal financial collapse I have believed things would get better. And every year things have gotten a little worse. This year is no different. I am convinced that something good is going to happen. I have felt it coming for years, and this year I feel it stronger than ever. Whatever it is I not only hope it is truly wonderful but that it also gets here soon. I've pretty much run out of sustaining energy. Today, I'll be going through the motions. In the rain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Watchful Faces in the Night

I like to fool myself by saying I'm brilliant. Do have a high I.Q., but sometimes this bulb shines dimly.

Back when I was in first grade my parents tried to purchase a house which was far too expensive for them to keep. We only lasted a two or three months and then we found ourselves living like Ma and Pa Kettle in a ramshackle house. I always thought my mother looked a bit like Marjorie Main, but Daddy bore no resemblance to Percy Kilbride. Well, maybe in attitude sometimes.

Well, the place we purchased was a hobby farm, complete with animals.

The house didn't have enough bedrooms for all of us to have our own room, so the big room in the basement was curtained off (with bedsheets instead of curtains) to make three rooms. Lynahr and Judayl got the far back area. Gayanne and Helvie got the middle area. I got the front area. The one with the window.

This was a full basement, so the basement window was one of those small things up by the ceiling. No egress or anything safe like that. Just the small window up by the ceiling.

We were allowed to stay up later than usual because it was a special day, but soon I found myself tucked in my bed and trying to sleep. That was when I heard the noise. And looking up, I saw the faces. There there at least three, but as many as five or six. Ghosts. They were peering down at me in my bed.

Quick as a flash I was out of there. (All of this predates The Old House, in which far more spooky things occurred.) Mother and Mickey came down to investigate, but the window was dark. Of course they didn't believe me. I crawled back into bed, watchful of the window.

Sure enough, it wasn't long and the faces returned. Again I raced away, and this time the entire family came to investigate. But this time the faces hadn't left. Everyone saw them. And everyone but me laughed. They were faces, all right. Goat faces. The hobby farm had come with Sanaan goats, which are white. For years afterward I had to endure the ridicule of being afraid of a handful of goats. Thought they were ghosts, you know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The House of My Youth

Part 12 - Storms

Back when I was young it seemed we were constantly beset by fierce thunderstorms. Some people called the area where we lived Tornado Alley. Of course the tornadoes we get in Minnesota are nothing compared to what they get in Oklahoma. I've seen pictures of those monster things down there. Some are a half mile wide on the ground. We seldom get anything like that up here, although it does happen at whiles.

For all the storms, though, The Old House remained standing. Many of the trees suffered. Mighty oaks felled by horrific straight line winds. We would climb on the skeletons until Daddy either brought someone in to cut it up, or borrowed a chain saw and did it himself.

I remember one year, perhaps a year or two before the house burned. It was Helvie's birthday party and everyone was there except Daddy, who was working. All day I had been watching the clouds. They were gathering to the north and I was warning everyone that a storm was coming. Everyone told me I was out of my mind. Storms didn't come from the north. They came from the west. But the clouds were coming. Surely they saw? They did. But preconceptions had them convinced it was nothing to worry about.

Not that it mattered anyway. There was no place to hide from a big storm in The Old House. The only real shelter was the root cellar, about fifty yards away. But even that wasn't safe. Should the roof be torn off the people inside would be exposed.

The storm took it's sweet time in coming. It didn't arrive until after sunset. Thus we didn't actually realize how bad it was. The television was off by reason of the party. (That was kind of an unwritten rule in our house. No television during family functions.)

When the kitchen window blew out we still didn't put two and two together and get four. We got twenty-two, and so we remained unconcerned. Mother grabbed a blanket and had me hold it over the window while she nailed some lathe boards over it to hold it in place. The blanket was bowed in like a giant watermelon. And then we heard it - the sound of a train.

Now hearing trains in The Old House was nothing new. The tracks marked our property's western border. But this wasn't the normal rumbling sound we heard, which shook the entire house. This was like a whistle, blowing off in the distance. Mother told me to listen. Then she said it was a tornado.

We stood silent and still for several minutes, as though that was going to do any good. Then the sound faded away. It had skipped us. Tornadoes do that. They jump. Forward, backward, and sideways. You can never count on what they're going to do.

We finished boarding up the window and then went to the big room, where everyone else was sitting and talking, oblivious to what had just occurred. When Mother told them, Dave, Lynahr's husband, laughed about us trying to lock out a tornado with blanket.

"Ain't no tornado going to get in here," he said, and we all laughed.

That's the cool thing about my family. They were often cruel in their teasing, and totally unsupportive of a person's dreams, but they could laugh off all forms of stress. Maybe that's why most of us have lived so long. I don't know. I do know this: Sometimes you just have to laugh.