Friday, February 26, 2010

What Makes Us Choose What We Choose

Priorities. It's how we live our lives, isn't it? In fact, we can't live our lives without them.

Which is more important? Go to the movies? Stay home and save the money? Stay home sick and risk losing one's job because they're not that understanding about such things? Or go to work and risk having it get worse and then you lose even more time?

Some priorities are easy. Some get complicated. To others, our complicated priorities generally aren't complicated at all. For some reason we can all see with perfect vision and clarity when it's somebody else confronted with a dilemma. But seldom when it's ourselves.

I have canceled most of my medical visits over the past eight months. Why? Because we don't have health insurance and we also don't have a lot of money. So I skipped my diabetes doctor. Canceled my heart scan. Canceled my colonoscopy (not a difficult decision). And have skipped going to the dentist.

The result is I now have at least two teeth with fillings falling out. One major. Back to that. A few years ago I went two years with broken teeth until we saved up the money to pay for repairs.

My feet have also swollen. My long, slender toes now look like stubby little sausages. The skin is stretched to where it actually hurts. The feet feel both warm and cold at the same time.

Now. Priorities.

Getting these things taken care of is important to me. PAYING somebody to help me deal with it is important to somebody. I have been in debt to medical facilities before. The only creditors worse are banks and the government. So, the choice: Go to the doctor when I know I can't pay for it and will then get phone call after phone call every night of the week for the rest of my life demanding payment; Or not go to the doctor and know that I am slowly but surely killing myself?

I have chosen the second of those two choices.

But that doesn't amaze me. For me, the choice was obvious and hardly worth debating. What amazes me is what took place this week.

Spouse and I stopped at the vet to get Firestar more food. He was out. And after he nearly died he's been on a special diet food only available at the vet. It's expensive, but it lasts a long time. Only it's prescription. So in order for us to continue to purchase it, we had to bring Firestar in to be examined.

So I did.

I spent $66 so Firestar could eat special food which prevents him from getting sick and dying. But I won't go myself.


I based this one on the truth that Firestar's condition is not of his doing. At all. All of my problems are my own fault.

Firestar has no choice in his life. His health is in my hands, not his paws.

I am responsible now for both of our lives. But it's easier to let mine slip than his.

Why is that? He's just a cat.

Except - he isn't. Is he?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Things He Did

I only knew my daddy for seventeen years. And of those years I only remember a dozen. Not a long time to get to know somebody.

What I most remember of him is his laughter. Daddy was a knee slapper. He When he laughed it was loud and hard. He put all himself into his laughter.

After he was gone I learned more things. Things that took place before I was born. Some of what I learned surprised me.

I knew Daddy had wanted to fly airplanes. For a short time he actually had a pilot's license. That was before I was born. By the time his second child was born he had lost it. To keep a license one must fly so many hours at month or something. That costs money. After he got married Daddy never had much of that.

All of that I knew. How Daddy had taken his mother, his step-father, and Ranlen up to fly. Ranlen was about two. He was sitting on grandma's lap, having a great time. And then grandma told him to look out the window. Up to that moment Ranlen had thought they were on the ground. Once he realized he was in the sky he threw up. All over grandma.

The piece of information I found most amazing I only learned last year. Daddy had wanted to go gold mining in Alaska. Mother didn't even try to stop him. "Go ahead. Go." That was her response. He was packed and ready to go. Then, the night before he was to leave, he changed his mind.

Now I know where I inherited my fear of trying something new comes from.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Times They Are A-Changing

Those of you with grown children will know all about this from your memory. Those of you with teenagers are living it now. Those of you with younger children may have an inkling. And those of you without children haven't got a clue.

Son is a teenager. That says a lot. And yet it doesn't really say anything. Teenagers are as different from each other as one tree from another. No two oaks are the same. No two ash. No two beach. No two any trees are the same. And yet all oak trees share common traits. Same with teenagers.

Today we were out. Shopping. A rare occurrence as we seldom have money. But our federal taxes arrived on Friday and we had money in our pockets. Enough to actually eat at an Old Country Buffet restaurant. For those of you who do not know, OCB is an all you can eat establishment. It's a favorite with the very old and the very young. And the poor.

Son used to love going there.

Actually, there was a time when Son always wanted to go with us. It didn't matter where we were going. He wanted to come along.

That was then. This is now.

If it were possible, he would have us go without him even when his presence was required.

The days of not minding being seen with us in public are over. At least for a few years. No longer are we brilliant. We haven't a clue. Our behavior is no longer eccentric. It's embarassing.

But I'm not being fair. The truth is, whatever he feels inside, he is nothing but manners on the outside. I'm only guessing at the clueless and embarassing. He's never said a word. Never acted different.

Except he hates going with us when we leave.

It's his independence coming to the surface. Very necessary, but also lonely.

I appreciate him growing up. Hopefully, he will do better with his life than we have done with ours.

But sometimes I miss the boy.

He used to want to go places with me.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who is That in the Mirror Anyway

I'm a suspicious kind of person, I guess. Have been for a very long time. And the tendency has only gotten worse as I have gotten older. Don't really much like it. But it's a matter of self-preservation, you know.

The sad thing is that despite all of my suspicions and doubts about virtually everything, I have not been immune to playing the fool. Which only makes me more suspicious.

I suppose my family taught me to be that way first. They who loved the practical joke. Anything to make someone look and feel foolish. When you played the fool in my family you got no sympathy anyone. Even Daddy and Mother laughed. In fact, often it was Daddy or Mother who put you in position to be the fool.

It was meant in fun, but it didn't always go over well. And the absence of the reverse - positive reinforcement - only made it worse.

As a child I learned a big lesson: Don't trust a good thing. It's a trick. You will look foolish.

I have also had my share of people who have feigned friendship with me in order to use me, get something from me, or just make me look stupid. Men aren't the only ones with "one thing on their minds", and women aren't the only ones hurt when the truth comes out.

The result, of course, is that I have some incredibly wonderful people in my life who I don't entirely trust. Not because of them. But because of a past filled with people who weren't so incredibly wonderful.

Not trusting others, fearing them even, means not being involved when fun things are happening. I rarely attended parties or things of that nature. And when I did I usually sat alone and watched. Still do that at family functions. I'm an observer. Not a participant.

A few times I have joined in, and usually I have had a good time. But for whatever reason, these memories are not enough to inspire frequent attempts to repeat.

I have also been victim of more than one financial scam. When I was doing well, had a job that paid very nicely, money in the bank, etc., I laughed at the scammers and shook my head at those who got scammed. How could they be so stupid? Well, now I know. It isn't so much stupidity as it is desperation. To use sports terminology, it is the Hail Mary pass at the end of the game. It's throwing the basketball (as opposed to shooting it) from 80 feet away.

Yes, playing the fool does make us wary the next time. But it also makes us wary of a good thing and good people when they come along. And if we're too wary they just keep going.

I don't particularly like being afraid and mistrustful. At the same time I don't particularly like being a fool. But my real concern is this: What is that is exactly what I am?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Have you ever noticed how some people just can't sit still? Not ever. Not even after a long and difficult day at a regular job. They return from work and immediately start finding things to do around the house/apartment. They can't sit still. Not even when sitting still is exactly the correct thing to do.

Spouse is like that. After thirty years of marriage we have NEVER sat down and watched a movie, or even a television, show straight through. There is always something that needs to be putzed with. (Putz is my word for activities which don't need to be done and don't really serve much of a purpose at the time.) The result of this is that Spouse never knows what's going on in a movie or television show. And during those rare moments when Spouse returns to watch there is a constant barrage of questions about what's going on which would have easily been answered had Spouse just relaxed and sat still to watch.

After thirty years I'm at the point where if it doesn't interfere with my relaxing I don't really care. It drives Son nuts. He's entering the stage of annoyed replies to questions about the show. Or sullen silence. Teenagers have their own ways of communicating dissatisfaction.

I suppose people like me drive the active people insane, making them think I must be out of my mind (or a completely lazy slob) for being able to sit down and not move from my place for extended periods of time - such as fifteen minutes or more.

Remember Rudyard Kipling's, "If" poem? There have been a variety of comic takes on it over the years. My favorite came from the Flintstones, the stone age cartoon created by Hanna-Barbara back in the 1960s. Fred was going to umpire little league. In the rule book he reads the If poem - as it related to umpiring. It concluded with, "If you can do all of this then, and only then, are you read to be an umpire. You bum."

Whenever I'm around people being active and I'm being calm, I find myself thinking of the If poem and wonder if they're thinking something along this line.

If you can remain calm when this entire mess is your fault,
If you can sit there calmly while there is a floor that could be vacuumed,
or a bed that could be made,
If you can type on that keyboard when there are things that could be rearranged,
furniture that could be moved,
Then just what in the h*ll is the matter with you? Get off your a*s and do something! Anything. Just quit sitting there like that. You're driving me nuts!

Ceste la vie. Right?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fuzzy Icicles

We've had light rain for the past week. Other parts of the area got bonified rain and snow. We didn't. But we still got icicles hanging from the roof around us. Being on third floor gives us a closer view of these things.

Today we have light snow. It's supposed to keep getting worse and worse. Nothing like the east coast just got, but snow nonetheless. It's a dry snow, and it's sticking to the icicles. While waiting for our tax guy to arrive I chanced to look out through the deck and saw them. So I took some pictures.

This was the first thing I saw.

And I did a close up.

The snow keeps falling off the top, but the stiles got their share of now.

Our third floor neighbor never uses his deck.

Our second floor neighbors had a nice Christmas scene.

And on the other side it looks like an avalanche under construction.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fortuna's Wheel

Time is something we humans have been fascinated with for a long, long time. Even as individuals many of us think about going backward, or forward, in time. Backward to relive old experiences and possibly correct some errors in judgment we made. Forward to see what life will be like. We hate unpleasant surprises.

Not everyone is afflicted with this condition. Many people are quite content to live life in the moment. They could care less what happened in the past, or what is in store in the future. Now is the moment, and now is where they live.

I'm not one of those people. I'm a past person. I see past joys and wonder why they had to end. I see past sorrows and wonder if I would have averted them - if I had only known then what I know now.

But were past joys more joyful than current joys? Or is it simply that now that I can see them with a beginning, middle, and end, I recognize them as joys, whereas now I'm never quite sure what I have until it's done. I suppose that's the advantage of living in the now. Every moment is its own beginning, middle, and end.

There's an addage (I don't know exactly how it goes) that says we can only know the heights of joy by knowing the depths of sorrow. And vice versus, too. In essence, if I understand this aright, one cannot be any happier than they have been sad. Neither can they be any sadder than they were happy. Sounds safe enough. Also sounds dull. Almost robotic. I don't live that way. I don't want to. I'll take my great sorrows, because I know that coming my way is great joy.

Meanwhile, once again I haven't got anything intelligent to say.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Similar Parents

Stephen's relationship with his parents was what I considered to be - odd. It certainly was not like mine with my own parents. Although his mother was constantly yelling at him. But she didn't call him names and say she hated him. She just yelled at him all the time. In fact, everyone in his family yelled at everyone else. I think it was how they communicated.

But his parents could be so capricious. Without warning they would turn from yelling and screaming to complete and utter generosity. Or the reverse.

Every so often his dad would try to join some of the things we did: billiards, basketball, football, fishing, movies. He was better than average at billiards. He completely sucked at the rest.

I remember one time Stephen calling me up on a Saturday to ask if I wanted to go out that night. I said sure. He said he would be right over. I went outside to wait for him. It was a nice day.

Since Stephen only lived about five miles away it didn't take long for him to show up. Our house was on a corner and I saw him driving to the stop. Right behind him was his dad, laying on the horn. Stephen stopped and got out and he and his dad engaged in a loud exchange. I was too far away to make out the exact words, but the end result was both cars turned around and drove back to Stephen's house. I went inside to wait for the phone call.

I could hear the yelling in the background. It still wasn't clear what the problem was, but Stephen wasn't going to be able to use the car that night. I would have to drive to him. So I got permission to use the car and went to his house. He was eager to leave. The yelling continued until we were both in my car and driving away.

What had happened was this. Stephen's dad had decided to clock Stephen's speed. But he didn't want Stephen to know it, so he waited until Stephen was well away before getting in the other car and following. But to clock Stephen's speed he had to speed to catch up. When he found himself going 70 m.p.h. to catch Stephen he concluded that Stephen was going 70 m.p.h. Stephen, of course, argued that if he had been going that fast then his dad would have had to have gone even faster to catch up. The argument fell on deaf ears. All his dad knew was how fast he was going. Therefore, Stephen had to have been going that fast, too.

Now that I think of it, Stephen's parents were a lot like mine. They didn't make any sense at all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What We're Comfortable With

Life is a series of milestones. Most of then quite insignificant. For instance, just a few seconds ago I won my 930th consecutive game of Reversi. You know the game. It comes free with most computers. Basically, it's Othello. I bought Othello back in 1977, I think. That was when I was living alone in a one room flat near the Har Mar Mall. It was also the place where I was unknowingly on display for the world every night. But if you're interested in that you'll need to look at post history. (See What to Watch When the Television is on the Fritz - 1970s Style)

I spent a couple of days getting the hang of the game before Stephen showed up. We played a few games - which he lost every time. Then Randy came over and I beat him. Eventually, Randy would take computer programming in college and he wanted to write an Othello computer game. He was always so frustrated because his program never beat me. He would ask me my strategies and I would tell him. No sense lying. All he had to do was watch me play anyway. So he would go back to the college and input all of the new facts. Then he would invite me in and I would play. And win. And I did it by not following my own strategy. When he asked me why I changed my strategy I replied, "Because what I wanted to do wasn't going to work." That was the element he could never program. The ability to completely toss out one strategy and adopt an entirely new on on the spur of the moment.

There was a time I was very into strategy games. Not all strategy games. For some reason I found (and still find) checkers boring and chess annoying. And I didn't like Go. But games out of the ordinary often fascinated me. Othello, Twixt, and number of others I can't recall the names of.

My sister-in-law had a game we used to play almost daily. I forget the name. I always won. Every time. And for a long time that didn't bother her. Then she decided that it wasn't good for me to win every time. And she decided to quit taking it easy on me.

I suspected she had been. She was (is) hardly a dummy. Her high intelligence and wild sense of humor was what kept us friends. So she decided she would win. She actually gave every move considerable thought. And suddenly, I found myself on the defensive.

It didn't stay that way. The game went back and forth. She had the advantage. I had the advantage. Stalemate. Repeat the cycle. There were only a few pieces left to each of us. It was a game in which you would jump opponent pieces and remove them from the board. Similar to checkers, but with a LOT more twists, from having different kinds of pieces making different kinds of jumps to a diamond board instead of a square. But the game had reached the point where neither of us was allowed any more mistakes. The next mistake, or miscalculation, would result in defeat.

To be honest, the strain was awful. It was so tempting to just give up. But I was convinced I had two things going for me that would result in my winning: my pride in having never lost would keep me going; she didn't believe she would win.

I don't mean she didn't believe she couldn't win. Of course she could win. She had proven that over and over again. But she didn't believe it. It wasn't in her heart. But she had already achieved her goal. Her goal was to prove to me that she could beat me. She had done that - even without winning. My goal was to never lose. Ever. And she knew that.

What I was counting on was her not wanting me to fail. In her heart she didn't. And so it was she who made the fatal mistake which allowed me to win. She didn't let me win. Not consciously. The move I made to claim victory came as a complete surprise to her, and I had to step through it again (slowly) so she could see its legitimacy. But I believe(d) she wanted me to win.

Stephen and I were like that. Stephen NEVER beat me at tennis. I NEVER beat Stephen at basketball or pool.

I NEVER beat my brother at much of anything. Even when I'm clearly better.

We all have relationships like that. There are people who will always win over. There are also people we will never defeat. It has nothing to do with ability. It's something in the heart. Something which tells us that if an alternate result were to occur, not only would life not be the same anymore, neither would it be as good.

My sister-in-law put the game away after that match and we never played it again. I don't think it was so much that I couldn't lose. After that match winning no longer mattered. But we had moved the game from something fun to do together to something which pitted us against each other. And we didn't want that. And so the game wasn't fun anymore.

In the years since I have lost that drive within that tells me to never lose. I hardly try in games anymore, and often lose when I could have - and should have - won. But it doesn't bother me. I find a peace in defeat which I never found in any of my past victories. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, it isn't about winning anymore. It's just about playing.

Unfortunately, I seem to have taken the same attitude toward life in general.