Vicarious Escape

A eighty-year-old friend whose husband died recently called me from her road trip this afternoon. She was waiting in her grandson’s driveway in Prescott, Arizona for his arrival. She had just gotten to his house when she received my text, in response to an earlier phone message from her, expressing interest in her follow-up ideas for a book about how the U.S. would be different if Europeans hadn’t invaded it. I wrote about that a few days ago. She wanted to talk about “the book,” as if I were going to write it. We had a brief conversation about it, but then talk turned to her trip.

She had stayed with relatives in Kansas until a week or two ago, when she embarked on a road trip that took her to Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada (the latter two, she admitted, only because she went to the “four corners.” She stayed in  an AirBnB room in a house in Taos and a in a “dump” motel in one or more of the other towns she visited along the way (Mesa Verde (CO), Santa Fe, Las Vegas (NM), Flagstaff, etc.). Last night, she stayed in a seedy motel in Flagstaff, but had a wonderful experience over dinner at the Weatherford Hotel, an elegant old place (she said), where she dine alfresco and talked to visitors from France and Belgium and where her waiter agreed to serve her a martini and toast her late husband (“but he was probably drinking water,” she said).

I admire my friend for her adventurous spirit and her determination to do what she said she would do. Long before her husband died (but when it was apparent he was dying), she said she wanted to take a road trip after he died to visit friends and family and to experience life “on the road” as a solo traveler. In fact, she wrote a number of “travelogues” that were written as if he had died and she was on the road. She read some of them to her husband. Now, she’s actually doing it. Her dog, Cooper, is not with her as her stories said he would be, but she’s living the stories nonetheless.

I’ve had similar “fantasies” about embarking on a solo road trip all over the U.S. and Canada, stopping along the way to work (if I could get it) just to get a better sense of who these people I pass on the streets really are. I’d like to get to know people, more than just superficially, who are utterly unlike me. People whose lives followed different paths than mine or whose circumstances simply prevented them from following their dreams that may well have mirrored the life I’ve lived.

On an entirely different topic, a Facebook friend and fellow blogger (Chuck Sigars) who I’ve never met posted some intriguing bits and pieces today about a film in which he played a starring role. I decided to download the film from Vimeo for $8 ($4 to watch online if you don’t want to buy it). I haven’t watched it yet, but I will. And when I do, I will offer my honest assessment of the film. That’s scary. What if I don’t like it? Hell, it’s just like critiquing someone else’s writing. You don’t say “you should be eviscerated for writing such swill!” (At least I don’t.) If you don’t like the intensity of the narrator’s obvious lust for the protagonist, you might say “I think your narrator’s emotional attachment to the protagonist came through clearly. I think you might want to consider distancing your narrator a bit, giving the reader the opportunity to come to her own conclusions about the protagonist.” Anyway, when I’m in the mood to watch Winning Dad, I’ll watch it and write about it.

Continuing my stream-of-consciousness diversions from linear thought, another Facebook friend (I met her once while I was in California) posted a photo of herself on Facebook, along with the caption, “61 yo and my upper lip is disappearing. A lifetime of giving lip, I guess.” My response, based on a hilarious exchange with my brother and his wife while we were visiting in Mexico, was “This reminds me of a misunderstanding of a Simon and Garfunkel lyric from Outrageous. ‘Who’s gonna love you when your lips are gone?’

Everything is a memory. Nothing is now. Nothing is this moment. That makes the admonition, “Be here now,” a distraction, a misdirection, an attempt to distort the present, which comprises nothing but memories, with a present void of both memories and wishes.

The paragraph above is irrelevant to the remainder of this post. But, then, you may have noticed.

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If I Were a Tailor, I’d Stitch a Book

I suppose I always intended to write a book. Or, rather, to have written a book. I’ve never wanted to begin the process, only to complete it. And I wanted no part of the effort involved between starting and finishing it. That’s not true, not really. I enjoy writing. Sometimes, I love it. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me moderately sane and prevents me from shattering into a million pieces.

Occasionally, I sit at the keyboard and think through my fingers for an hour or more at a time, pausing only briefly between spurts of creative energy to make coffee or flex my hands in a futile effort to relieve arthritic pain. I’d like to compile what I consider the very best of my writing into a book. I don’t know what the compilation would be called. Not an anthology of short stories, because much of what I’d want to include are not short stories. Not an anthology of essays, because…same thing. I suppose I could simply stitch together a stream-of-consciousness compendium that no one, other than I, would want to read. Actually, the compendium may be the best option, if for no other reason than it would enable a reader (if there were one) to develop a picture of who I am, who I have been, who I wanted to be. But, for that to work, the reader would have to care who I am, was, wanted to be. Regardless of arguments against the compendium, I certainly have plenty of material. I’m approaching twenty-six hundred posts on this blog, alone. At the end of August 2015, I recorded how many posts I’d written for other blogs that I either abandoned or, in a fit of writer’s existential rage, destroyed. Musings from Myopia, my first blog (that died at my own hand) lasted 1262 posts. I stopped posting on It Matters Deeply after the 82nd post. I’m not even bothering with other blogs I started but almost immediately abandoned. Thus, I have more than 3900 posts from which to draw material. Let’s be optimistic and say five percent of my posts might be worthy of being edited for inclusion in an anthology of sorts; that gives me 195 posts to massage into a book. But, perhaps I should be more realistic and say only two percent of my posts have a modicum of redeeming value. Still that’s 78 posts. I think there’s a book  hidden in my writing. There’s plenty of material in pieces that never made it to my blogs, too.

I’m thinking all of this to myself, documenting my thoughts on the interwebs. I wonder, could I actually stitch together a readable anthology of—something? Actually, I don’t wonder. I know I could do it. The question is, will I?——

 

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Run for It

I haven’t posted for several days now. It’s not that I haven’t written anything to post. It’s that what little I’ve allowed myself to write has been dark and nervous, as if written by a ground squirrel stuck in a shallow hole, eyes on the sole exit, where a band of malnourished coyotes patiently awaits the opportunity to rip the beast to pieces and greedily lap up its blood.

I wonder, would that squirrel eventually make a run for it? Or would he simply wither and die of thirst and starvation, too afraid to try to escape the inevitable? If the latter, the coyotes might starve to death, perhaps a fitting exchange for the terrified squirrel’s life.

What, I wonder, has pushed me into this hole? Whatever it is, I guess I’d better try to make a run for it.

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Goodbye, Anthony Bourdain

A short while ago, I received a text message from a friend, saying only “Tis a sad day, amigo…Anthony Bourdain dead at 61.” A link to a CNN article about Bourdain’s death was included. Bourdain, who was in France working on an upcoming episode of “Parts Unknown,” is said to have committed suicide. Learning that he had died shocked me. Learning that his death was by his own hand ripped into me like a knife. I suddenly felt like I must have missed signs of his pain. But how would I have known what signs there might have been? How would anyone know what was hidden behind his lined face? Who could have known that behind his self-assured style was a man who must have been tormented?

Perhaps, I thought, I was so shattered by Bourdain’s death because of something I wrote a few days ago.  I went looking through my drafts and found it: When I hear that someone has committed or attempted suicide, I feel profound sadness for the person. I feel empathy for the person because, I suppose, I know the depths of hopelessness and sadness and despair the person must feel. The sensation is that there’s nothing to be done about one’s situation and the way one feels about it. The blackness, the suffocating cloud of emptiness and unworthiness and utter desperation about life, is almost impossible to bear. No one knows the demons hidden beneath a calm exterior. No one knows what goes on in the minds of the people we love. This morning, I’m reminded of just how imperative it is to be supportive of the people around me, to demonstrate in every way I can that I’m there for them, no matter what they’re going through.

All of us should pause to reflect on Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. A wildly successful man— traveling the world, meeting interesting people, getting a close look at all sorts of cultures and their culinary traditions—who seems to embody what happiness is chose to end his life to free himself of a pain about which we know nothing. I can’t help but tear up at the thought of a man who appeared so “strong” but who might have felt unable to reveal to anyone the crushing pain that brought him to an awful decision.

Goodbye, Anthony Bourdain. I’m sorry for the pain that caused you to end your life. My friend, the one who told me about Bourdain’s death, noted in a follow-up that he’d listened to something about mental illness that ended with, “Please be kind to a stranger today. You never know what they might be going through.” Yes. Yes. Yes. Goodbye, Anthony Bourdain.

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A Piece of the World Without Us

I had a phone call from a friend yesterday. The purpose of her call was to share with me an idea for a novel. The idea? Write a novel that follows the development of what is now the United States of America had the land been left “undiscovered” by Columbus, et al, and had evolved entirely under the guidance of its native inhabitants. Though I don’t see myself writing the book (though it’s a possibility, I guess), I was intrigued by the idea.

What if, I asked myself, the indigenous peoples of this country we call home had been left to their own devices, without outside interference? What if Canada and Mexico had, somehow, developed according to history but the “U.S.” had been left untouched, except for trade—or not—with the neighbors north and south? My thoughts go immediately to the extreme improbability that “Indigenous America” (as I’m now calling it) would have been left untouched. I mean, really, how could the indigenous people have maintained control over such a large expanse of territory, while just across the north and south borders development took place apace? My mind struggles with the concept. Without the U.S., what would the rest of the world looked like? Europe would have evolved in very different ways than it did. Would there have been a World War I without the U.S.? What about World War II? And, assuming there would have been a World War II, how would it have concluded, without the U.S.?

It’s impossible to wrap my head around the ways in which the world would have been different. Had it not been for the English colonizers, I believe it would have been someone else. The indigenous people would have had to fight other Europeans for control of the territories in which they lived. Or, perhaps, after Europeans captured and took control of what is now Canada and Mexico, those countries would have grown into imperialist powers, seeking to expand their dominion. Perhaps, without the U.S. and its slave trade, the African tribes that served as sources of the slave trade would have evolved in very different ways, possibly resulting in an industrial revolution in Africa, leading the continent early into an era of modernity and technological leadership. Or, perhaps, European and Asian imperialists would have taken different paths in Africa, becoming partners with Africans, rather than conquerors.

My skeptical and pessimistic self bubbles to the surface, finally, as I consider these and a hundred other scenarios: humans, being the selfish, ravenous beasts they are, would not have let the indigenous people of North America alone. Whether Europeans or Asians or South Americans or Africans, someone or many someones would have licked their chops and waded in to a land of riches, hell-bent on extracting every bit of value they could from its shores.

Or, even if left alone, I suspect the tribes that had long engaged in skirmishes to protect their territories would have eventually gone to war with one another with the objective of taking control.

One thing is certain. Had the indigenous people of what is now the U.S. been left alone, I would not be here today. At this moment, I cannot decide whether that fact makes me sad or glad. I suspect the very idea of “how would I feel” about this fictional history and where it would have left the world today is utterly absurd. But it’s still intriguing.

[The title of this piece is not meant to interfere with or otherwise cause confusion with the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. That book takes “us” well beyond what I’m thinking. It’s an absolutely engrossing book, by the way, in my opinion.]

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Almost Contemporaneous Telling of a Dream

I had a long, involved dream, more like a nightmare, several nights ago. I awoke in the middle of the night (see number 8, below) and rushed into my study to record what I could remember. Even immediately after waking, many elements of the dream were unclear and disjointed. I know it was all part of the same dream, but several of the pieces just don’t fit together. Anyway, for psychiatrists with an interest in nocturnal insanity, here’s what I wrote.

  1. I was in a huge room, taking a class on some kind about motorcycles, taught by three  guys. Harleys and the more expensive motorcycles, they said, were the cream of the crop. The cheaper motorcycles were fine for most people, but more expensive were much better. The differences were in the frills; they said Harleys, for example, allowed riders to remote control stoplights so they turned to green from red.
  2. I questioned why the big difference in price and why “frills” made the high end motorcycles so much better. One of the guys was miffed by my question. He wants to show me that I shouldn’t be questioning him.  He gets in an argument with one of his co-teachers; very loud, angry, screaming. Much more discussion of motorcycles and why cheap ones are okay for the masses, but “chosen people” must ride Harleys and their ilk because only the best bikes will do for them.
  3. Not sure how, but the angry guy then is leading us outside in a car. He is screaming and one of his co-teachers is trying to calm him. Something happens, not sure what, but there was a big blow up.
  4. Next thing I know, we are all (more of us now) on a wet, muddy roadway in the dark. Myra Rustin, a friend who’s also a writer and who goes to my church, is walking next to me, trying to get me to talk to her. She gets angry when I tell her to move over closer to the sidewalk as cars pass.
  5. Next thing, I’m with a group of people, including the angry motorcycle guy, who are trying to find someone planning a hit on a major event with a rifle. We are in a big city, downtown, among tall buildings. We see a guy with a rifle in the distance; he is sprinting away from us. We start chasing him but we lose him, but we see another guy  dressed like the first one. He is wearing black slacks and a black t-shirt; something red is visible, not sure what. Somehow, we are certain a major hit about to be staged. We see another guy with a rifle in the distance. We stop a couple of cops and tell them an attack is imminent; they dismissed us, saying “Five Easy Pieces” is being filmed. We say, NO, this is the real thing. They blow us off. I tell one of them I got his name and will report him (though I did not see his name badge). Just then, a guy exits a subway, carrying a rifle, but he looks different. We tell the cops; the guy explains he is there to film “Five Easy Pieces.” We keep running. We arrive at a big building with lots of outdoor space. A priest stands there with several children, looking like they’re posting for photos. Shots ring out. One little girl is hit and falls to the ground, bleeding. Then the priest goes down. Then more little girls. People are running in a frenzy.
  6. Next scene, we’re entering the same building, but there’s no more frenzy. Just a lot of people, all getting ready for some major social event. We push our way through the crowd. I realize I’m wearing a suit, but no tie. A guy from high school, Mark Westerman, walks by with his wife, but it appears he does not recognize me. Yet he speaks to me in passing. He and his wife leave. For some reason, I am very afraid that he is involved in the rifle attacks.  A few minutes later, they return. He is dressed to the nines. He approaches me and asks if I am John Swinburn. “Yes, and are you Mark Westerman?” He says, “It looks like you’ve done very well for yourself, like you’ve made a lot of money that allowed you to retire.” “No, just living in poverty. This is an old suit that I’ve taken good care of.” He then proclaims all of his accomplishments and all the businesses he owns, expressing how over the top successful he is. People all around me, people I do not know, listen. He leaves. A woman close by suggests he is full of himself. I remain afraid. I think he will return with guns.
  7. Westerman returns. “John Swinburn, may I have a word with you?” I am afraid if I go with him, he will either kill me or have me killed. I try to avoid going. Something else is going on around me, quite a commotion. I get in a car, a Mustang, and start driving around a large, circular driveway. Cars are coming from a different direction, chasing me. Shots ring out. I am scared, but I know I must go someplace where I can stop this rifle attack. I hit the gas and move toward a place I think “my side” is trying to stop the attacks.
  8. My wife gets up and goes into the bathroom; my dream is interrupted. I am grateful.
  9. It’s now 3:54 a.m. and I’ve just finished recording what I remember of a dream. Back to bed.
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Hail to the Roofer

Two and a half months after our house received a new roof (mid-March, 2018), we experienced one hellacious hail storm. On the afternoon of June 2, the promised “spring showers” turned into fifteen minutes of relentless hail raining down. Fierce winds, sheets of rain, brilliant blue lightning bolts, and cracks of thunder accompanied the hail storm. Most of the hail was fairly large, the size of very large marbles; larger than a quarter, but smaller than a half-dollar. But, occasionally, a hail stone the size of an egg would crash onto the deck and ricochet from deck board to siding to metal table. I spent the entire time outside, on the metal-roofed screened porch (not especially bright, I realize in hindsight). The sound of hailstones hitting the roof was, on occasion, deafening as the large stones smashed into the metal. After just a few minutes, hail stones of various sizes littered the deck. It looked a little like we’d had a light snow that had begun to melt.

After the storm had let up, I sent a text to the roofer who had installed our new roof, asking him to come take a look; I wanted to know if the storm had ruined our brand new roof. He responded immediately and said he would take a look the following day (which was yesterday). While my wife and I were out and about, after church, he sent another text. He had examined the roof. “I didn’t see any significant damage to your roof…you do have some cosmetic dings to your turbines and gutter covers, but it’s nothing that should cause any concern.” I’m pleased the storm didn’t do any significant damage, but I wish the storm had attacked the old roof, before we got it replaced.

If I could, I would take action to ensure that no more hail will fall on our roof. But I can’t. So I won’t worry about it.

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We Actually Joined a Church

I joined a church yesterday. I’ve lived my entire life up to this point being “unchurched.” I have never wanted to join a church because…well, for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I suppose, was the dogma, the creed, the insistence that I relinquish control over my interpretations of the world to…a book, a set of arbitrary rules, ceremonial nonsense that deflects thoughts away from reality toward…something or someone outside myself.

But minds change. Open minds allow firmly rooted concepts to bend and flex. I discovered that not all churches insist that they have the answers. I discovered a church that doesn’t even suggest there are answers, only questions worthy of attempting to answer.  Yesterday was a milestone. The only requirements to join were that: 1) I participate in an orientation that explained the history of the church and the seven principles that guide its activities and 2) I agree to affirm and promote the following:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual grown in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our own congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

I’ve had “problems” with some of the statements. I have difficulty affirming and promoting “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” But I’ve learned that we’re striving to adhere to those statements, not necessarily that we’re “there” when we join the church. And I appreciate the objectives that the statement imply. What I appreciate as much as, if not more than, the fundamental tenets of the church (and its willingness to accept people regardless of whether they believe or do not believe any creed), is the genuine sense that the people in the church are trying their very best to love one another and to love people in the larger society. They want to make a better, more peaceful, more just, and more respectful world. And they’re willing to try to do their part, knowing full well the world we wish for and hope for won’t be achieved for a long, long, long time, if ever. But they are willing to strive toward achieving it. In some sense, it’s ridiculous; why try to change the world when you know you don’t have the power to change it? It may sound trite, but the reason to try is that you may not be able to change the world for everyone, but you may be able to change it for someone, maybe only yourself. So you try.

For much of my life, I’ve been extremely judgmental about religion and about religious people, even people in my own family. I’ve thought they were allowing themselves to be deluded into beliefs that made no sense. I’ve thought they were subverting their own intellectual capacities and allowing others to think for them. My judgment has softened considerably in recent years, but it hasn’t disappeared. But the past two-plus years of pretty regular attendance at a Unitarian Universalist church, coupled with reflections and considerations of my own, have softened my thinking even more. Though I’m a far cry from sharing beliefs that would make me feel at home in any church expecting me to buy into its creed, I’ve changed. I’m willing to acknowledge that people are perfectly capable of making their own choices about what they do, or don’t, believe. In fact, one does not need the church—any church—to make your own choice about what to believe. But collective endeavors tend to be more fruitful than individual efforts. And being in the company of people who want to improve the world is satisfying. What I find especially gratifying is that the people I’ve come to know at my church aren’t “Sunday believers.” Whether they believe in a supreme power or not (I suspect most don’t), they are daily “doers.” They act on the principles they are asked to affirm and promote. I’ve come to find satisfaction in “promoting and affirming” the principles of UU, as well. And I’ve come to appreciate that, while I’m not “there” and probably won’t get there, the simple fact that I’m making an effort is reason to be hopeful.

So, I joined. So did my wife (she was raised Catholic). I’m happy to be part of a group of people who strive to make the world a better, safer, more just place through their day-to-day actions and interactions with other people. The core values that guide the church are the same as the core values that form the basis for many religions. Just without the creed. It’s the commonalities with other churches—the fundamentals of how to treat others—but the absence of forced acceptance of world views that make no sense to a lot of people, that makes Unitarian Universalism appealing to many people, I think.

I’ve gone on much longer than this topic warrants, so I’ll stop. But I wanted to memorialize in “print” my thoughts on these matters of religion and church membership. After almost sixty-five years, I’ve actually joined a church. Who woulda thunk?

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Hail Storm–06-02-2018

Last night’s hail storm. Take a look at 05:20 and beyond.

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Jigsaw Puzzle Poetry

[The words below were published accidentally; I intended to “save draft” for later use but they got published, instead. The shards of ideas here are just that—fragments. Much of this will never find its way into a finished poem. That’s good, because good poems don’t deserve such broken pieces of idea.]

He wanted to think of it as a huge jigaw puzzle, all pieces separated and
spilled on the wooden floor, a mess that time and commitment can repair.

But she saw it more as a keepsake crystal vase, purposely dashed on a
hard tile floor, broken into a million shards of irreplaceable antique glass.

The damage was unintentional. It was simply an outgrowth of an attachment to someone else, an attachment that didn’t include her. She, the starry-eyed puppy in love with an idea she thought lived in a person, simply stumbled onto the rocks from his row boat in an ocean of love and hate and indifference.

When that pitcher erupted into a spray of sharp fragments, slicing into her senses like a razor, she sensed the impermanence of love and the permanence of emptiness, the knowledge that a relic of a life taken away is like death, gone forever.

 

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We Live in Absurd Times

Accuser: “Your dog bit my child.”

The Innocent: “I do not have a dog.”

Accuser: “My child is at the doctor’s office because of your dog’s vicious attack!”

The Innocent: “I do not own a  dog.”

Accuser: “Officer, this is the man whose dog injured my child.”

The Innocent: “I don’t own a damn dog!”

Accuser: “Officer, my child is in the hospital, her life hanging by a thread. Arrest this man!”

Police officer 1: “Sir, we need you to surrender your dog. And you need to come along with me.”

The Innocent: “For the last time, I do not own a goddamn dog!”

Police officer 2 to Police officer 1: “We found a dog down the street. It pretty well confessed to killing the child. I mean, it was pretty obvious. It had something, I think it was blood, around its mouth. When I hit it with my club, it tried to bite me, so I shot it dead.”

The Innocent: “You people are crazy! Dogs don’t talk and I don’t own a dog! And where’s the child that was bitten?”

Police officer 1: “Hands behind your back, sir. You are under arrest for training your dog to kill the child and bury its body. Tell us where the child’s body is buried.”

The Innocent: “I do not own a dog. I did not tell a dog to kill a child. I do not know this guy who claims that my dog bit his child.”

Police officer 1: “You said ‘my dog,’ sir. What kind of dog is it?”

The Innocent: “I don’t own a dog!”

Police officer 1: “But you said ‘my dog.’ Were you lying to us?”

The Innocent: “Look, I was just explaining I don’t own a dog. And I didn’t train any dog to kill anyone. And I don’t know where the child’s body is buried.”

Police officer 2: “Our detectives found two more dogs down the street. They considered them dangerous, so they shot them. Looks like they were part of a pack.”

Police officer 1 to the Innocent: “So, now you’re saying you don’t know where ‘the child’s body is buried.’ Obviously, then, you know there’s a child buried someplace. And now we know there were other dogs involved. The story is becoming more clear by the second. You breed dogs to kill! You sick son of a bitch! ”

Accuser: “Lock that SOB up! Some poor child was bitten by his pack of dogs.”

The Innocent: “Wait a minute. ‘Some poor child?’ I thought it was your child.”

Accuser: “It doesn’t matter whose child it was. Obviously a child was attacked by your vicious dogs. The pain of any child is my pain! You are a murderer!”

Police officer 1 to the Innocent: “Okay, that’s enough! You kill a child, thinking it’s the Accuser’s child, and you try to make this about the Accuser! You’re off to jail, you bastard!”

The Innocent: “Where is the child? What about the dogs you killed? They’re not my dogs! This is madness! I’m not even sure there ever was a child bitten by or attacked by or killed by dogs! I want a lawyer!”

Police officer 1 to Accuser: “Do you have a child?”

Accuser: “No, but my wife and I considered having a family. We couldn’t.”

Police officer 1: “It must be especially troubling for you, then, to witness such a brutal murder of an innocent child, a child that could have been yours.”

Accuser: “Just the thought of it turns my stomach.”

Police officer 1: “Do you have any idea where the child’s body could be buried?”

Accuser: “No. My neighbor called and told me that a child had been bitten by a dog, so I went outside to investigate. That’s when I encountered The Innocent. If anyone knows where the child is buried, it will be him.”

Police officer 1: “So you didn’t actually see a dog attack a child?”

Accuser: “No, but the fact that the other officers encountered vicious dogs confirms that they were in the area. And kids regularly play outside here. So I put two and two together.”

Police officer 1: “Well, we’ll get to the bottom of this. I just hope we can find the child’s body so his parents can give him a proper burial. In any case, don’t you worry, we’ll nail The Innocent for the crime!”

The Innocent: “This is insane! I don’t even think a dog attacked a child! I don’t believe there were vicious dogs! This stuff was all made up!”

Police officer 1: “Shut your mouth! By the time you get to the police station, you will have confessed. Do you understand me! I don’t care whether a body is ever found! You’re going down for this, you worthless piece of crap!”

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For the love of god, don’t call it a falsehood! Call it what it is, a lie! Trump doesn’t pepper his speech with falsehoods. He lies every time he opens his mouth. And his lies are treated by his powerful allies as if they were truths. So when he lies about being spied on, his followers (for whom, by the way, I have nothing but contempt) latch onto conspiracy theories and do all they can to punish the “spies.”

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Five-Twelfths Over and Done

This morning, I’ll treat this blog as my journal.

Yesterday, I spent some time with a man who is my political opposite. I try to avoid any conversations of politics with him because my blood pressure and my voice tend to rise when I hear perspectives I consider ill-informed at best and blatantly idiotic at worst. The conversation yesterday went haywire after a disagreement over some words I included in a draft of a story I’m writing. More on that in a minute. That disagreement devolved into a furious exchange, after we were in the car heading home, during which he expressed his undying love for Trump’s policies and attempted to serve as an apologist for Trump’s lies. I wasn’t having it. I lit into Trump and anyone who supports the man. It got ugly. He responded by railing against Hillary Clinton, calling her a piece of shit who, he says, is a far greater liar than Trump. If I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have pushed the man out of my car at 50 mile per hour as I drove back toward the Village from Hot Springs.

The reason I spent time with this man involves a writing project. He suggested the project, lured me in, and then promptly relinquished all responsibilities for writing (he does not type—anything he writes he does in long hand and his wife types it for him). I’ve continued working with him only because I committed to doing it, early on. It no longer holds my interest the way it did, in large part because of him and the questions he asks of the woman about whom I’m writing. Originally, I liked the idea of telling the story of a woman who came to the US as an eight-year-old child from what was then Yugoslavia, speaking not a word of English, and built a successful life for herself (with enormous help from her parents and the Serbian community). I still like the idea. But I am finally understanding that he seems to want to use the story to spotlight the fact that her family immigrated to the US “the right way.” Or, at least, he wants to make damn sure the story doesn’t suggest that “just any immigrant” is good for America, only the “good ones.” I want the story to highlight the value of immigrants and their contributions to society.  After a year of periodic interviews with the woman, I’d hate to walk away from her and the story. But I don’t know that I can stomach working with the guy any more. We are by no means “friends,” but I don’t want to make him my enemy, either. And, as he regularly says to me,  he wants the story completed before he dies. He’s in his eighties and not very healthy. We left it as follows: I’ll continue writing, using my notes as sources, and will get in touch with him and the woman about whom I’m writing when I feel the story is finished. I made it clear it would be on my timeline and it wouldn’t be soon. I need time to decompress, I think.

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After yesterday’s debacle, I got home just in time to go to a talk delivered by a guy who started the Gangster Museum in Hot Springs and who’s written a book about the gangster history of the area. He’s an engaging speaker and we enjoyed hearing about the colorful history of gambling and gangsters. Early in the twentieth century, Hot Springs’ population was more than 25,000 and attracted as many as one million people to come take baths in the hot springs and gamble at the casinos and drink the illegal but openly accepted liquor distilled in the area. At the same time, Las Vegas, Nevada had a population of around 5,000. When gambling and gangs got rousted from Hot Springs, the city began to stagnate, while Las Vegas grew rapidly.  Interesting parallels.

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Our next door neighbors were at the same talk with another couple. After the talk, we all went to a relatively new bar & grille in the Village, where we enjoyed drinks and small-plate appetizers (like tapas, but not tapas). We were having a very nice time when, suddenly, a very bad muscle spasm/charley horse behind my right thigh. The pain was sudden and excruciating. One of people at the table, the woman friend of our neighbor, suggested I eat mustard to address the problem. She left the table in search of mustard and brought it back (in the meantime, I could not sit; instead, I limped around the room, grimacing and whining as quietly as I could). After I downed a couple of tablespoons of mustard, a co-owner of the place brought me a gallon zip-lock bag of ice. After applying it to the back of my leg for a while, the pain subsided enough that I could carry on a conversation. I’ve never had a muscle spasm in that spot before. The rare muscle spasms I’ve had have been in my lower leg, generally in my calf. I hope last evening’s experience was the first and last one in my thigh.

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Today is the first day of June. We’re five/twelfths of the way through the year. Imagine, if you will, that the circle represents a full year. The shaded sections represent those parts of the year that have passed. Those parts of this year will never again be available to us to live through. They’re just gone. Zap. Nada. No more. Memories may remain, but the actual year parts are gone forever.

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My wife is planning to go out today to get her driver’s license renewed. She  hopes to get the new version which will allow her to use it as ID to board planes. I think the entire “upgrade” to IDs is just another step on the road toward giving everyone a national identification number. If I could start a revolution, I would.

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Insensitivity

[This is a modified version of what I originally wrote. After posting it, I thought about my reaction to the issues addressed in this post and realized how far off base I was. So, here is my revised version. I need work.]

I read yesterday evening about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke greeting Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, with the Japanese word, “konnichiwa,” for “good day” or “good afternoon” during a congressional hearing. Zinke’s remark was derided by Asian-American lawmakers as “flippant” and “blatantly insensitive.”

My first reaction was, “Really? I would take the remark as one of reverential acknowledgement, not racism.” You see, I assumed Zinke knew something about Hanabusa; that she is of Japanese heritage. And I assumed his greeting was meant to honor and respect that heritage. But the more I thought about it, the less certain I became that the comment was innocuous. Even if  Hanabusa is of Japanese heritage and even if Zinke was attempting to show honor and respect, he failed. He “assumed” she would know the meaning of the word, simply because of her name. That’s equivalent to assuming someone whose surname is Russo speaks Italian. Acting on that assumption is beyond insensitive. In other words, it’s a colossal blunder. And it’s one I might have made (not with Russo, but with Hanabusa). THAT is evidence of insensitivity and failure to think things through. It’s evidence that we (I) have more work to do before I can claim that I am not culturally insensitive. I don’t know that I’d call it racist, but maybe it is.

Let me reiterate: I loath Zinke. But I’d give him a pass on this one, beyond chiding him severely for being insensitive and culturally tone deaf. I’d like to see the guy fired, by the way, but not for this blunder. He has plenty of other egregious faults that warrant his imprisonment in a toxic waste site.

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Something Deep

I was awakened in the wee hours this morning by bone-jarring cracks of thunder and blinding flashes of lightning. I hoped, for a brief moment, the storms signaled cooler weather. But, then, I remembered what the weather prognosticators offered last night: today’s high will be in the low- to mid-nineties. Cloudy with afternoon thunderstorms. Summer come early, the presage of savage heat by July and August. Meteorologists be damned, I predict temperatures reaching no higher than the high seventies today, with the thermometer dipping to the low sixties tonight! My prediction is, of course, utterly absurd. Meteorologists tend to know better than I what the atmosphere will bring.

Speaking of meteorologists, have you ever wondered about the etymology of meteorology? Well of course you have! I suspect it’s kept you up at night, worrying that someone will ask you to give an extemporaneous speech on the subject to an audience of several thousand linguists. Not to worry! I’ve just consulted Father Google and his minion, Online Etymology Dictionary so you won’t have to. According to OED (isn’t it clever how the publishers of the web site chose a name whose acronym mimics the OED?) it says this:

meteorology (n.)
“science of the atmosphere, weather forecasting,” 1610s, from French météorologie and directly from Greek meteorologia “treatise on celestial phenomena, discussion of high things,” from meteoron, literally “thing high up” (see meteor), + -logia “treatment of” (see -logy).

Okay. I knew the definition beforehand, but I was less clear on the derivation of the word. I assumed there must be some connection with “meteor,” though, and that wasn’t quite as clear (though I would assume a meteor is a “thing high up”). And the helpful publishers of OED suggested I check out meteor, which I did. And here is what they had to say:

meteor (n.)
late 15c., “any atmospheric phenomenon,” from Middle French meteore (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin meteorum (nominative meteora),  from Greek ta meteora “the celestial phenomena, things in heaven above,” plural of meteoron, literally “thing high up,” noun use of neuter of meteoros (adj.) “high up, raised from the ground, hanging,” from meta “by means of” (see meta-) + -aoros “lifted, hovering in air,” related to aeirein “to raise” (from PIE root *wer- (1) “to raise, lift, hold suspended”).

Specific sense of “fireball, shooting star” is attested from 1590s. Atmospheric phenomena were formerly classified as aerial meteors (wind), aqueous meteors (rain, snow, hail), luminous meteors (aurora, rainbows), and igneous meteors (lightning, shooting stars).

I am having some problems with the fact that it’s astronomers and astrophysicists and their ilk who study meteors. Why don’t meteorologists get in on the gig?

As I read the second paragraph about the etymology of meteor, it occurs to me that I awoke this morning to a spectacle of aerial meteors, aqueous meteors, and igneous meteors. I rather like those terms. Wouldn’t it be odd to listen to the television weather forecaster say, “Tomorrow morning, we can expect high levels of aerial meteors. between one two inches of aqueous meteors, and brilliant displays of igneous meteors as the occasional thunderstorm passes through.”?

To change the subject just slightly, I’d like to propose that we change the term we apply to people who predict the weather from meteorologists to atmospheric futurists. Who should I see about making that adjustment to the English language? I suppose I should start at the top, directly with the OED (AKA “the definitive record of the English language”). Now might be a good time, since the OED is celebrating its 90th anniversary since its first publication and they may be in a charitable, celebratory mood. “Sure, what the hell, we’ll make the requisite adjustments to our dictionaries!”

You know, while I’m at it, I might suggest some other adjustments. I’m in favor of exploring the possibility of eliminating homonyms and homophones (is there a difference?). Why should a word meaning ‘a temporary stop or rest” sound exactly like a word meaning ‘the feet of an animal’? I suspect you’ve often been confused by sentences like “Look at the dog’s pause, would you?” or “Dogs often paws at fire hydrants.”Of course you have.  I think it’s time we change it, one word a year until the problem is solved.  Wait, maybe we should start with ‘to’, ‘too’, and ‘two’. By addressing that linguistic train wreck, we’d be able to avoid the problem of writing, “There are three ways to spell to/too/two.” And, while we’re at it, let’s address unnecessary duplicate meanings for different words, like ‘too’ and ‘also.’ Is it really necessary  to have such duplicates? Oh, wait, I have to backtrack on the concept of removing duplicates. I am in love with my Thesaurus; ignore everything I’ve said. Something is getting deep here and I’ve got to wade out of it.

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Wherein Profound Insanity is Codified into Law

This morning, when I stepped outside to hang the hummingbird feeders, I felt like I was stepping into a sauna. The thermometer read only 74, but I think the humidity must have doubled that number. Once again, I sensed that drowning must feel a little like breathing in impossibly high humidity. I don’t plan on comparing the two sensations.

As I type this (after I’ve recorded quite a bit of the dream from which I awoke this morning and much, much more), I stare out the window. I watch a daddy long-legs spider (which, I understand, is not really a spider) slowly make its way half way up the glass. Its long legs flail about as if it is dancing or conducting a symphony, then it stops. Perhaps it is resting.  Suddenly, it slides down to the window sill.  Almost immediately, it tries again. It reaches roughly the same spot on the window and then, whoosh!, right back down to the point from which it started.

Similar to the guy outside my window…this photo from the web

The creature is quite close to me, but clouds hide the sun and filter much of its light, so my view is not as sharp as it might be. If I had a magnifying glass, I might be able to make out the details of the little beast’s body but, alas (did you see that, Chuck?), I don’t have one handy. As I sit and stare at the cylindrical body from which multiple very long legs protrude, I think how little I know of the animal kingdom, especially insects and their ilk. How does this one eat? Where is its mouth? Why do I only see these things after they are full-developed and quite large (a good 312 inches across)? Do the younger, smaller, versions of this big daddy spend their time out of view, hiding from predators? Do they remain out of sight until they reach adulthood? And do these fully-developed monsters have to worry about predators? (Yeah. I, too, doubt that spiders or whatever they are “worry.”)

Humans think we rule the world. We don’t. Most of us are not even particularly good observers of the world around us. Even when we see the marvels of nature before us, we’re not sufficiently curious to find out what we’re looking at. My interest in the “spider” is superficial. It’s insufficient to merit the effort it would take to go find my camera, take a close-up photo, compare the image to other images and, once a match is found, read and absorb what someone else wrote about it. I shouldn’t attribute my superficiality to the entire human race. But I do. As a species, we’re arrogant. We believe, in a sense, the world owes us a living.

There are days I’d rather be a giant sequoia, just so I could live a very, very long time and experience changes to our planet. This is not one of them. Even if it were, I would realize soon after wishing it that redwood trees probably don’t understand the planet nor its experiences of change particularly well. Okay, so I’d rather be a sentient, extremely intelligent giant sequoia capable of critical thinking. This tree would need a brain, I think, and eyes. It might need to be mobile, too, so it could watch the eons unfold in multiple places. And it would need the capacity to communicate with all other creatures, so it could better understand what’s going on around it. Fluency in the languages of roughly two hundred specie of squirrels would be required [that’s the number of squirrel species, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)]. And that’s just a small part of the language requirements necessary in order for this tree to truly understand the world. There’s so much more for this tree to know before it can truly understand the world around it.

Crap, it would take thousands of years for GS (that’s the name giant sequoia goes by) to fully absorb all it needs to know. And just about the time GS is able to sort out all he knows about Earth, along comes 45, the world’s most sinister and stupid human. And 45 advocates for open-carry of chain saws. “Make my dominion great again,” the imbecile shouts, as he swings his chain saw from side to side and howls with laughter. “The only way to stop a bad tree in the way of a developer is with a good guy with a chain saw,” he blubbers as he signs the “Clear-Cut-America Act of 2018.”

Maybe there’s no point in wishing to be another species. All species are under attack. Even our own. I’ve circled the wagons this morning, haven’t I?

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Retracing My Dreams and Other Places My Mind Goes

When I awoke shortly after 3 this morning, due in part to my wife jostling the bed as she got up to use the bathroom, I was involved in a terrifying dream. Rather than go back to sleep, I got up and spent about 35 minutes or so recording what I could of the convoluted dream (which, I think, might have been multiple dreams stitched together in my head).  I haven’t taken the time to make sense of what I wrote, so I’m not posting the “dream-of-consciousness” that spilled from my fingers. Instead, I’m posting about typing. Maybe I’ll post about the dream another time. I’ve got it all down, recorded as a draft post.

That’s right, as I wandered the interwebs, subsequent to memorializing my dream, I came across an article on the BBC website about competitors to the QWERTY keyboard and over the years. There’s AZERTY, designed to accommodate French language typists; Colemak, a direct replacement for QWERTY that halves the amount of finger movement required for typing (and which enables the typist to type 35 times as many words using only the keys on the home finger row); Dvorak, which places the least commonly-used letters on the bottom row and makes the right hand do more of the typing; and JCUKEN, designed for the Russian language, using the Cyrillic alphabet. The focus of the article was on the Dvorak keyboard, which enabled Barbara Blackburn to earn a Guinness World Record by typing 150 words per minute for 50 minutes, with a peak of 212 words per minute. I once thought I was a blazingly fast typist when I hit 65 words per minute during a brief period when typing speed mattered to me.

I’ve often thought the QWERTY keyboard needed some help, especially with respect to special characters, such as ñ (pronounced énye), which I find I use quite a lot because of the joy of jalapeños, a joy I wish to share with the world.  The virtual keyboard on my smart phone has addressed the issue by allowing me to let my finger rest on a key and then select  from a drop-down menu an underlying symbol associated with that key. But on my clunky old physical keyboard, I must go to great lengths to find special symbols. Using WordPress, I’m able to simply select, using my mouse, from a drop-down menu associated with a special character set. But what I’m after is a physical keyboard that makes it easier for me to select special characters like these and others [€ ¥ © § î]. I doubt I’ll find a keyboard that will physically give me those options. The size of such a keyboard would be enormous. It would have dozens and dozens of additional keys. Typing on such a beast would be an agonizingly slow process, I suspect.

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Last night, I seared a couple of tuna steaks (a minute per side on a very hot grill). My wife then cut them into chunks and added them—plus chunks of avocados—to a mixture of red onion, green onion, Tabasco sauce, soy sauce, wasabi powder, lime juice, sesame seeds, lime zest, salt, and pepper (there may have been more). It’s an Ina Garten recipe that we make at least a couple of times a year. I could eat it every day, if given the opportunity.

We ate dinner outside, on the screened porch, listening to and watching birds. Just off the deck, flitting from limb to limb and leaf to leaf, a flurry of birds we decided must be tufted titmice entertained us with their antics. After looking at our handy “Arkansas Birds” guide, I announced that the bird in front of me was a tufted titmouse. We decided the plural of titmouse was titmice. This morning, I checked what bird authorities called the plural of titmouse. They, too, say titmice. But the etymology of titmouse suggests it ought to be titmouses. According to the etymological resources I checked, the mouse in the word comes from an Old English word māse, meaning small bird. So the plural should be titmouses. But I won’t argue with the likes of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, from whose website the following words are taken: “Look for Tufted Titmice flitting through the outer branches of tree canopies in deciduous woods, parks, and backyards.” That’s exactly where I found my titmice.

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You may have noticed the ā in the word māse above. Perhaps I should have known (and perhaps I once did) that the symbol above the letter is a macron. The definition of macron is “a horizontal line used as a diacritic over a vowel to indicate that it has a long sound.” The macron is just one of many diacritical marks (including cedillas (comma-like marks attached beneath letters, e.g., ç), tildes (like the squiggly above the n to make énye (ñ) , circumflexes [yes, like ^, ˘, or ~ above letters], and, of course, macrons) that help us understand how written words are to be pronounced. One could make a career out of understanding and properly using such marks. I am sure many people have done just that, including people who nose about in publishing houses that specialize in dictionaries and their ilk.

Now that I’ve found the above knowledge in online dictionaries and other such places, I think I may once have been the proud owner of that knowledge. I can say I am again. But I had misplaced that information in my brain. It took an online dictionary for me to find it again. That’s one of the prices one pays for long-ish life. One’s head gets filled to overflowing with knowledge that gets shoved out to other parts of the body. I think my knowledge about the name for and meaning of macron was pushed into my right shoulder which, as you might know, has given me fits off and on for many months now. Part of my knowledge about circumflexes was jammed in a spot midway between my left elbow and left wrist.

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In just a few hours, we’ll be at church, listening to Janis Kearney speak on “Living My Dream: From Varner Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Janis was President Clinton’s diarist. She served in the Clinton White House and co-authored a memoir with him. She’s written several other books, as well. I met her a few years ago and have enjoyed visiting with her from time to time over the years. It will be a treat to see and hear her again this morning.

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Apparently, I’m still awake after arising just after 3 in a rush to document my bizarre and frightening dream. It’s now approaching 6 in the morning and my coffee cup holds only evidence that I’ve been enjoying coffee while I type on my QWERTY keyboard. That evidence suggests it’s time to refill the cup with French roast coffee, hot and strong and sufficiently powerful to kick any remaining ideas of getting more sleep to the curb.

 

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Cool Reflections

Moderately cool, dry air floods the house. Though the air in the house is no cooler than it has been for much of the past several days, it feels better because the suffocating humidity of the past week has been sucked from the air, courtesy of a finally-working air conditioner. We were without AC for a week, an awful experience these days in which refrigerated air has become almost as important as oxygen. It has not always been so with me. I grew up in South Texas, first in a border town and then in a coastal city, with no air conditioning in my home until I was a junior in high school. We somehow suffered through the beastly summers with temperatures regularly in the nineties and relative humidity levels to match. I do not understand how I survived and I do not understand why people settled that part of the world ante-AC. But I did and they did. My experience did not kill me, though it probably disfigured me for life in some fundamental way—my psyche was no doubt irreparably damaged. I’m sure the way in which I view the world was colored by my dismay that humans would willingly put themselves in and remain in such an uncomfortable environment. But my memories of dismay are blurry. In fact, I remember only a little about circumstances in which I found the temperatures and humidity almost unbearable. Those circumstances almost always involved black, oscillating table fans with black metal blades. The fans brought a modicum of relief, but they also brought sharp pain when, in the middle of the night, I would stretch and, in the process, thrust my fingers into the spinning blades. I’ve written about that before, I think. If not, I’ve surely thought about it.

In spite of the inhospitable conditions of summer in South Texas, living there had its high points. Lots and lots of fresh citrus—limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit. Luscious, just-picked vegetables from roadside stands. Fish and shrimp, most of it alive and fresh from the boat. Opportunities to catch our own fish and crabs. And my friends and I used seine nets to catch our own shrimp that we used for bait when we’d go fishing for speckled trout and assorted other fish, including the occasional flounder, that took the shrimp bait. Though my memories of those times are far dimmer than I wish they were, I still recall times when life on the Texas coast was spectacular. I suppose the reason I didn’t move back to the coast after college was simply a matter of employment; work was more abundant in the big cities of Houston and Dallas. I might have stayed in Austin after college, except the employment scene there was even worse at the time. A huge population of students—then about 40,000—was hungry for jobs. I didn’t have the first clue where or how to apply for a job, especially in such a competitive environment. So I fled.

There have been times I’ve wished I’d gone back to the Texas coast. I remember the small towns that I found so appealing, in part, because they were small and the populations were heterogeneous. At the time (I thought), Mexican immigrants lived in peace and harmony with Anglo “natives.” I liked that. It was, to no small degree, a myth, but I liked what I believed was true. I liked the simplicity of the small towns. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Austin and its cosmopolitan atmosphere (and its extremely diverse student body), I felt a kinship of sorts with the small towns. Perhaps that was because I used to travel with my father through those towns, where he would stop at lumber yards, chat with the owners, and sell carloads of lumber to them. He’d take their orders, then make arrangements with sawmills to ship their purchases to them, via railroad. Some of the lumber he bought was from the Pacific northwest. Some was from Texas. Some from Arkansas. At the time, I knew nothing of clear-cutting. I knew nothing of logging companies destroying swaths of old-growth forests. And today, even though I know more than I knew then, I am not ashamed of my father’s role in selling lumber. He, like damn near everyone alive at the time, simply did not understand what logging was doing to the environment. And he knew that, at least in Texas, the sawmills from which he bought lumber were involved in forest management in which they would not clear-cut and would, instead, replant timber in areas from which they harvested it. God, I’m really going off course here.

So here I am in Arkansas, in the middle of the forest, living in a house that is, once again, cool and comfortable. And I’m thinking about life on the Texas coast. I am certain it is very different today than it was when I was growing up. The population is much more dense. The little towns are much larger. The sleepy villages on the coast where, back in those days, you could buy a little frame house right on the water for a song, are no longer sleepy. They are weekend retreats for people with money and time to kill. They are tourist resorts whose economies have changed as the fishing industries have declined. Even after I left, I remember hearing stories that suggested Vietnamese immigrants essentially took over the fishing industry along the coast, thanks to their experience and their willingness to work harder than the next guy. I wonder if they, too, are suffering the economic pain of declining catches? I suspect so. Overpopulation and greed take their toll wherever you go.

I feel sad today. Sad that my childhood memories are like vapor. Sad that the few memories I have of life on the Texas coast are of a life that no longer exists. Sad that I can’t recapture any of it, even if I go to visit. The world in which I lived has changed. It’s no longer the happy hamlet of my youth. I do so miss the isolated life I never had, the life on a farm where the only interactions with people were limited to weekly trips to the market. I really never had that life. But I miss it. I miss that life I wish I’d lived. Life on an island off the coast of New Brunswick or perhaps a spit of land on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina or Maryland. We should be able to implant distinct memories in our brains, vivid, lifelike experiences with images as sharp as a print from the very best Leica camera. I remember a film from many years ago in which that was possible. People could buy “vacations” which involved implanting experiences of things like African safaris in their brains. I remember the name of it (I’ve probably written about it before). It was called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, and it starred Raul Julia as a character named Aram Fingal. Now it’s coming back to me. I’m certain I’ve written about it. Now I’ll have to look it up.

It’s 6:20 p.m. and I think I’ll drown my ennui in wine. Exercise would be better, but I’m already nursing four ugly and monstrously “itchy” chigger bites on the upper rear of my right thigh, suggesting I’ll be better off staying indoors. We had no problem with chiggers when I lived on the Texas coast. Our nemesis was the mosquito. I prefer the mosquito; it’s an enemy that at least is visible. Maybe I should rethink where we live. I do not want to cope with chiggers. I just don’t. But we’ll see, won’t we? We will, indeed.

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Speed Limits in Samoa

The laziness, pomposity, and idiocy of the American people should have been evident long ago. Ongoing attempts to adopt the metric system have all failed. That rejection of an invitation to join the rest of the world has put us in the company of only six other countries: Myanmar, Liberia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Samoa. God, we’re such a progressive nation.

Perhaps I’m too harsh in saying efforts to adopt the metric system have failed. We (some of us) buy soft drinks in two-liter bottles. Wine and liquor are sold in 750 mL bottles. Some gun fanatics enthusiasts speak in hushed, reverential tones about their 9mm handguns. In medicine, science, and pharmacology, use of the metric system is almost universal. So I can’t say metrication failed. But it certainly didn’t succeed. Our speed limit signs still show MPH, though some also indicate in smaller type “km/h.” Weather reports and forecasts still use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. Tape measures show inches (some also reflect metric measurements, as well). We monitor tire pressure in pounds per square inch. But wait…aren’t the sizes of tires (or tyres) worldwide measured in inches? Ach. If that’s true (and it may not be), I suspect that’s because of the early American domination of the auto industry. But some places, I think, measure tyre pressure in kg/m2. Right? Or is it kPA? Hell, I don’t know.

My condemnation of Americans as lazy, pompous, and idiotic may have been overly harsh, as well. The conversion to metrics would have required significant investments by some industries. And it would have required re-training Americans in the use of metric measurements. The benefits, in many instances, would be minimal. But, in my view, the single most important benefit that we continue to disregard is that we would be in step with every other developed, and most undeveloped, country. Our citizens would be able to communicate on fundamental matters of weight and distance and speed and on and on, using the same system that almost everyone else on earth uses.

On another matter, completely unrelated, I learned this morning that the speed limit while driving over bridges in Samoa is 15MPH (24 kph). If you want to know more about Samoan driving codes (and I know you do), you may find information at:

http://www.lta.gov.ws/images/fees/roadcode/THEROADCODEREVIEWEDFinal.pdf

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to me that I have not made the effort to use the metric system of measurement. Because I’m used to seeing U.S. Customary Units, I continue to use them. But I do notice that my shampoo bottle is marked as 23.7 fluid ounces, with (700 mL) noted after. So the bottle is sized in metric round numbers, but the U.S. units are printed first. Maybe we’re changing, ever-so-slowly, after all. But I doubt our school children are being taught the metric system (I could be wrong—I often am). And that’s too bad. If kids were taught to use the metric system and could see how much sense it makes, I suspect they would grow up questioning the unwieldy system we use. Who has time (or the inclination) to convert everything in one’s head? Or, for that matter, who wants to grab the calculator to calculate metric-to-US or US-to-metric conversions? What’s the US equivalent of a blood pressure of 185/120?

This matter may not be worth the rant, but it’s too late now. I can’t un-write what I’ve just written. I could opt not to post it, but that would mean the time and energy I’ve spent writing this rant were for naught. My decision to delete this post now would amount to self-condemnation, a habit I’m trying to break. So, instead of deleting it, I’ll proudly proclaim my support for metric measurement and my ambivalence about American ambivalence about it.

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Persian Food and Fantasies

Last night, we joined two other couples for dinner as part of our UUVC “dinner for six” involvement. The meal was outstanding: multiple Persian dishes, from appetizers through the main courses to dessert. Our contribution was what I consider a bastardized version of baba ganoush. It included yoghurt, which I think it should not, and the eggplant was baked and not smoked. But it was tasty. I did not make it, but I helped until my wife shooed me out of the kitchen. We learned during our conversation that there’s a fairly large Persian (Iranian) community in Oklahoma. And we learned that one of the participant’s granddaughter is autistic. And we learned (but quickly forgot) the names of several dishes our hosts prepared. And we came home with zip-lock bags full of leftovers, a portion of which I had for breakfast very early this morning.

We have a friend who lived in Iran for a while a number of years ago. We haven’t talked to her about her experiences there in many years, but last night’s dinner made me want to spend time with her and listen to her talk about the food and the customs and the experiences to which she was exposed. She lived there with her ex-husband. I don’t know how long she was married to him; I never knew him, but I knew her before they were divorced. And I have known her and her current husband for many years. It’s hard to believe that it must have been 1977 or 1978 when we met. How could it have been forty years? I’m too young to have known anyone for forty years.

But, back to last night. Because it was late as we drove home through heavy fog, rain, and the sounds of thunder rattling the car as lightning lit up the sky, my wife decided she would rather not drive to her sister’s house to sleep in air conditioned comfort. So, back home, we opened all the windows and doors, turned on all the fans. We didn’t get to bed until after midnight. I slept reasonably well, but was up to pee around 3:30 and then I got up for the day at 5:00. I could have blogged, but didn’t. I could have written, but didn’t. I could have washed dishes or clothes, but I didn’t. Instead, I exposed my brain to the wash of bad news spawned by the fact that Donald Trump was born and later poisoned the minds of easily-manipulated people who feed off of fear, hatred, and xenophobia. But I’m getting off track, I guess. Oh, I did read the local weekly rag (Hot Springs Village Voice) online. And then, at around 7:15, the paper version was finally delivered to our driveway.

I included the name of the paper because I might read this post years hence, the way I’ve read other posts from years ago and realize I mention something in passing that I assumed I would remember later. But the detail is gone. So I try to include more detail than is necessary. But that detail is never enough, is it? So what’s the point? If I’m not going to include enough detail, why bother?

 

The rain has begun again, a steady drizzle that would soak me from head to foot were I to walk outdoors for a minute or two. But it’s not really heavy, pelting rain. Just a solid, soaking, constant drizzle that’s washing the streets of dust. When the rain comes, I feel the cool breeze come in the window and I like where I am, for the moment.

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Exhilaration

A cool rain washes pollen from the air.
A light breeze chills the morning, just enough.
Gratitude spills from each breath and clings to each step.
Promises are impossible to break on days like this.
Love is the only emotion that survives this onslaught
of goodness, wrapped in Nature’s embrace.
If, for just one instant, the rest of humankind could feel
as I do now, all the world’s problems would be quickly solved.

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Of Rogues and Gypsies

My wife opted to sleep in cooler temperatures, so she spent the night at her sister’s house. I stayed at home, AKA the oven, which was reasonably comfortable after 11 PM and with the fan on high-speed, aimed at my face and bare upper body, not constricted by sheets. When I awoke around 5 this morning, I was reasonably comfortable except for a chigger bite at the belt line. Apparently, the beast latched on to me during our travels yesterday, probably while we were visiting estate sales, and crawled north where it spent the evening dining on my flesh. If this chigger bite is like the others I’ve had since moving to Arkansas, it will leave a permanent scar (after weeks of painful itching). The oils sold by local pharmaceutical compounders may have an effect, but it’s not enough to eliminate the itching.

The sky outside is an odd pinkish-blue, casting a strange tint on the neighbor’s driveway. The appearance is a little like a poorly done science fiction film. That’s the best I can do to describe the light and its impact on the world outside my window. The open windows allow the sounds of birds to flood the house. Normally, I enjoy bird songs, but there’s one bird call this morning that calls for silence by shotgun. There, it’s gone. I just knew the little bastards were reading my computer screen; they peer in the screen door behind me and read every word. When I write about eliminating their noise-making by resorting to buckshot, they fly away like airborne cowards. Then again, if I read over someone’s shoulder that the writer wished to stop me from annoying them by using a shotgun, I’d probably flee, too. That’s not cowardice, that’s self-preservation. Smart birds. Annoying birds, but smart enough to get out of Dodge. Ach! Now it’s the damn crows I hear. Laughing at me! Give me a shotgun and a box of shells!

I showered immediately after I awoke this morning, a rarity for me. Normally, I get up and putter around the house for a few hours, but the chigger bite and the sensation of stickiness that arises when the air conditioner is on the fritz compelled me to stand under a shower head. I used to shower immediately on arising, but that was back in the day when I’d get up to go to work. The habit of taking an early morning shower has its positive attributes. I feel much better after showering. It stands to reason I’d feel better, longer, if I showered earlier. Why have I abandoned the habit? I suppose it’s because I don’t want to wake my wife with the noise in the bathroom. I bet she wouldn’t even notice, though. This morning, since she wasn’t here to hear, it wasn’t an issue.  Hmm. I may return to that age-old habit.

Yesterday, during our time away from the sweltering house, we went out seeking herbs and flowering plants and other such greenery. Today is the day to plant them. My wife bought herbs, I bought flowering plants and a single tomato plant. My hope is that the tomato will grown into a monstrous tomato generator. I should have bought more than one plant; maybe I’ll go out today to get another. I envision becoming a tomato rancher, tending to an enormous tomato orchard, plucking vine ripened tomatoes at the precise moment that the fruit achieves perfection. Because my tomato plants will be tall and extraordinarily productive, I will need to ride a horse outfitted with enormous saddle-bags. The height of the horse will allow me to reach up into the highest branches of the tomato trees (you’ll notice the plants became vines and the vines became trees) to pluck the fruit. Once the saddle bags are full, I’ll ride back indoors and will empty the tomatoes on the counter. I’ll select some for slicing, some for canning, some for making tomato sauce, and some for pickling. That’s right, I’ll pickle some tomatoes. That reminds me, I should buy okra seeds, because pickled okra is among the most delightful foods anyone has ever eaten. The okra I don’t pickle will either be used in okra and tomatoes (another dish delivered to humankind by the gods of gastronomy) or fried. Fried okra, though bad for the heart, is good for the soul. My soul needs a little cleansing or whatever it is that fried okra does for it. And what’s an okra and tomato orchard without a field of cilantro, I ask? I suppose I should allow my wife to grow the cilantro in her herb garden. So, instead of cilantro, I’ll plant cucumbers and squash and eggplant. That’s it! An okra, tomato, cucumber, squash, and eggplant orchard. The problems with this scenario, and there are many, is that the deck is not large enough and, even if it were, I don’t think it would withstand the weight of the soil needed for may enormous orchard and the horse I would ride while picking the fruit. If I tried to till the mountainside beneath and behind my house, I would need to first blast the rock into dust, then add enormous volumes of organic matter. I am relatively sure the property owners association would object. Plus, I do not know where I would get the money for the undertaking. That’s the problem with moving to a rocky mountainside. Large-scale fruit and vegetable production is damn near impossible in such an environment. I suppose I could, instead, visit the farmers’ market on a regular basis, spending my money on food instead of the means by which to produce it.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll no doubt have realized that I have essentially nothing to say this morning. So, instead of communicating, I’m simply stringing words together in a way that forms sentences but does not necessarily make any sense. The term for this is gibberish. According to a British dictionary I found online, the word originated in the 1550s as a means of describing incomprehensible chatter. The same dictionary suggests the word was used in the early seventeenth century to describe the language of rogues and gypsies. I cannot confirm what any of the suggestions about the word’s origins have a root in fact, inasmuch as I was not present in the 1550s or the early seventeenth century. If I could travel to that time, though, I would. I would want to be able to return to this time or a few days later, when we learn of the existence of functioning air conditioning in this house.

Next on the agenda: a decision on whether to go to church this morning. On the pro side, the building has air conditioning and there will be pre-service treats. On the con side, I will have to dress in clothes I find more than mildly constricting. And, going to church would delay the planting of my tomato ranch and my dazzlingly colorful flower garden.  I suppose I’ll have to wait for my wife’s return to learn of my decision.

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An Attempt at Gratitude

Wine-enhanced sleep, even when the humidity is higher than one might like, is welcome sleep. I don’t think I woke up during the night, not even once. But I awoke to the experience of slightly sticky floors. You know, that odd sensation one gets when one steps on wood floors that are just a hair cooler than the moist air around them? Yeah, that stickiness. It’s not really sticky, it’s just…odd. We decided leaving the windows open, allowing the slightly cooler air and pollen to surround us overnight, was preferable to keeping them closed. We would have steamed ourselves to sleep had we kept the windows closed. If, indeed, we had slept.

Even with the moderately cooler temperatures (the thermometers and the computer-reported weather data agree that it’s 70 degrees at the moment), the humidity suggests it’s not as comfortable as one might expect. My body agrees. I hope the AC guy calls shortly after 7:30 to report that he has found a replacement fan for our AC system. If he does, we ought to be back in business by noon (if his estimates are correct). If he calls to report he has to order the part, we won’t have air conditioning until Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest.

My smart phone just gave me a pop-up reminder: “Change AC filter.” Yeah, right. I will, but it will do no good until the AC fan is replaced. The good news is that the fan, the AC tech says, is under warranty. I’ll only have to pay for the service call and diagnostics, which he estimated last night will be $175. That’s a small price to pay for comfort. Between now and the time he calls to give me the news, I will drink coffee and make an attempt at gratitude. I’m grateful the outside temperatures are not in the low eighties. There, that makes me feel better.

 

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So Sorry for Myself?

Would you welcome a stranger into your home if you discovered the stranger’s air conditioning had gone out? You might. You might not. How about if the person dealing with a dead AC unit was a family member. Probably. Possibly not. How would I deal with the news? I think I’d offer a bed and a place to relax in relative comfort. But I don’t know. I’d have to ask my wife first. And she might not feel quite as relaxed around strangers. Or family. Who knows?

The matter is on my mind this evening because our AC fan motor died earlier today. We discovered it fairly quickly after returning from an afternoon of errands in Hot Springs: my broken glasses were repaired; we found some shelves that might work on the blank kitchen wall; we’re now the owners of a planter and its matching saucer that will work, we hope, for my wife’s herb garden. And I now have an interesting insert for my big clay pot that will, I hope, allow me to use less soil to nurture the same number of plants.

My mention on Facebook of our issue, facing a night without air conditioning, didn’t generate a tidal wave of supplies from local folks, offering a place to lay our heads in cool comfort. If we need a place for the night, my wife’s sister offered a place. But that was pre-Facebook post. Perhaps no one locally saw my post. I wasn’t asking for a place to stay; I simply mentioned that we were without AC. But it occurs to me that I would, I hope, offer to give people a place to stay out of the heat. I don’t know, though. Maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d think people I don’t know very well would consider me strange to offer them a cool bed. They might think I’m in training to be a sexual deviant or murderer. I understand. But, then again, I wonder if our attitudes that “we’re good people who want to help” are artificial, meant more to shore up our own consciences than to address real-world issues in front of us.

I hate being cynical. I hate distrusting people. I hate believing most people are not as willing to be helpful and good as they’d like us—we’d like us—to think. I know many people who are genuinely good, kind-hearted human beings who would give the shirts off their back to help a fellow human being in need. Or an animal. But I know too many others who would just as easily slit a throat if it meant an extra dollar in the bank. The thing is, how do we differentiate between them and protect ourselves, and people who matter, from them?

Still no offers of shelter for the night. Still no overtures from strangers. To say I’m disappointed wouldn’t be quite right. I didn’t expect a flood of offers. But I wished. I hoped. I wanted evidence that, even in the absence of a plea, empathy and compassion flow when even minor challenges face us. And I wonder if I, too, would be silent after reading a post that doesn’t look like a request for help, but might be one anyway, hidden beneath a veneer of pride.

The low tonight is expected to reach 69. In spite of high humidity, 69 degrees ought to be reasonably comfortable. We should be comfortable in our own bed tonight. If the AC is repaired tomorrow, all will be right with the world. If not, we could launch an unplanned road trip or stay with my wife’s sister. Or we could wonder where we live, who we live alongside, and whether we belong.

I tend to make much bigger “things” out of minor “things” than I should. I’m sorry. But I can’t change tonight. Maybe never. That’s a depressing thought, it is.

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Wandering the World

Last night we enjoyed our umpteenth World Tour of Wines dinner at Coronado Center (note to self: figure out how many there have been, when they’ve been held, and the country/region featured). The organizers strayed from the country theme this time, moving back to the USA with a meal and wines featuring the California North Coast. With a few detours. Late next month, the theme will be California Sierra Foot Hills, with wines provided by Langman Estate Winery. My favorite wife and I tasted some Langman Estate Wines when the husband and wife owners, who live in Arkansas but run the California winery, offered tastings at a couple of local liquor stores/wine shops. Good stuff, but priced beyond our comfort zone (described in vague terms a little further down in this post).

Our reserved table, plus some additional guests to fill in the empty seats, enjoyed the following:

  • An aperitif of Kir (comprising seven parts of Meimoi Chardonnay–not North Coast…the wine is produce in Acampo, south, southeast of Sacramento–and one part Chambord). I took a sip and gave my wife the remainder. I am decidedly not a fan of Chambord; it ruined what was otherwise a perfectly decent chardonnay.
  • Three Pears Pinot Grigio from Mason Cellars, served with a crab and shrimp appetizer.
  • Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir, served alongside the second course of avocado garden salad.
  • Joel Gott Pinot Noir, with the main course of applewood smoked salmon filet and hericot vert.
  • Simi Cabernet Sauvigonon, served with the lemon cake dessert.

I liked the Rosé of Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon quite a lot, but not enough to buy a bottle at $20 and $26.50, respectively. My buying behavior when it comes to wines is dictated, in large part, by price. My palate cannot sufficiently discriminate between a $12 bottle and a $36 bottle of wine to warrant the additional expense of the “better” wine. In reality, the more expensive bottle is not necessarily better. More likely, the more expensive bottle was simply more expensive to produce (for reasons outside the boundaries of my knowledge) and ship.

The appeal of these wine dinners is not the food (which, frankly, is reliably mediocre) nor the wine (though we’re drawn by wines of the world). We continue to attend because we enjoy the company of the people at our table and the repartee with the staff who talk about the wines and engage us (my wife and me and our table mates) in friendly conversation. The only times I encounter most of our table mates are in conjunction with these events. My wife sees one or two of the others more frequently when she’s out and about, but I see them rarely. The exceptions are, with respect to last night’s group, our next door neighbors and my wife’s sister, none of whom are regulars at these events. Circumstances just played out in our favor last night that they were able to join our large table of twelve. I’ll backtrack a little. The “regulars” at our table have taken to holding wine tastings at our respective homes on occasion; so far, there have been two and the group has committed to continuing them. We’ll see. My wife and I hosted the first one and a brother and sister who regularly participate hosted the second. Both events were, in my opinion, great fun. I’m drifting off topic again, am I not? Why, yes, I am. Back on track, please!

Despite the modest disappointments with the food service, we like these events and we learn from them. I am sure the people responsible for wine and food selections do some research to determine which regional foods pair well with specific regional wines. I’m not inclined to do a lot of research on such matters, but I appreciate others who do. I learn from them and I probably log the information away in my head. It comes up later when I plan dinner and wine pairings. Well, I think it does. I never really think about it, but I suspect my history of learning such stuff comes back to serve me later when I need it.

In an ideal world, the person(s) reading this blog would decide to join my wife and me one day for a world tour of wines, right here in our house. I leave it to you, the reader(s), to offer up a time frame for such an event so we can begin planning accordingly. Prost! Cheers! À votre santé! ¡Salud! Saluti! Skål! Na zdravie! Kanpai!

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Goodbye, Steve Anderson

This morning, after I wrote my silly blog post about and not about my eye, I had a breakfast of avocado on a toasted English muffin, alongside a slice of Canadian bacon. And then I went back to my computer. While perusing an online newspaper I often visit, I learned that Steve Anderson died a week ago today in an automobile accident. I communicated with Steve only once, via email, but that single interaction left a mark on me. I wrote a message to him, asking him to tell me a little about his life as an American who had moved to Chile. My request was absurd. How does one tell a stranger about “life as an American who had moved to Chile?” Frankly, I did not expect a reply. I knew only that he was associated with The Santiago Times, an English-language newspaper in Chile and that I learned quite a bit about Chile by reading that paper. I was curious. At the time, I was indulging myself in a fantasy involving a move outside the United States, a life-changing possibility that might, I thought, help me learn who I was.

Steve’s reply, though not lengthy, suggested to me that he was generous with his time and willing to answer silly questions posed by a starry-eyed middle-aged man pushing fifty-five. The essence of his response was that Santiago has a good-sized population of American ex-pats who would be welcoming and willing to share what they’d learned. The best way to learn about life as an American in Chile, he suggested, would be to visit Chile and talk to Americans who live there. He encouraged me to visit. He didn’t say it in so many words, but in his response I could tell he absolutely loved Chile.

Steve Anderson founded The Santiago Times in 1991. This morning, I learned from one of the articles about him that he was from Fayetteville, Arkansas. His career in the U.S. included the practice of law among various other roles. In Chile, in addition to publishing the online paper, he was an environmental activist.  Reading the paper on a fairly regular basis over the years kept me modestly informed about issues about which I rarely if ever read in U.S. media. It was in The Santiago Times that I followed Michelle Bachelet’s two terms as Chile’s president. And it was in the paper that I learned about and became concerned about Chile’s socialist-leaning future under Sebastián Piñera, the recently-installed right-wing president of the country. I learned quite some time ago about the Alto Maipo Hydroelectric Project and the damage to Chile’s environment the project could cause.

I’m not sure of it, but I think The Santiago Times is where I came across a house for sale on Chile’s mid-Pacific coast, a house I seriously wanted to buy. It was an architectural wonder with very modern design strongly influenced by the mid-century modern architecture I’ve come to love. I suspect my desire for that house, set high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific in rural Chile, was sparked in part by reading about Chile in Steve’s paper. My wife, being far more practical than I, convinced me that buying a house, sight-unseen, in a country I’ve never visited, would have been insane.

I read about student protests and university curricula in Steve’s paper. I read about all facets of life in Chile and I came to realize that, at least for educated Chileans in the larger cities, life is good. But I learned, too, that Chilean peasants and farmers and people who have no voice to oppose corporations taking their land and their livelihoods, life can be very, very hard.

Over the years, I’ve read pieces by many young journalists who, as they left the paper to go on to other career opportunities, thanked Steve for the opportunities he gave them by hiring them to work for The Santiago Times.  Just today, as I read some comments from people who worked for him, it was evident that Steve fueled journalism world-wide.

I wish I’d taken Steve up on his suggestion that I visit Chile to see what it was like as an American in that country. I’m confident that he would have welcomed me to his office and even his home in rural Chile south of Santiago.  It’s my understanding that Steve was no longer actively engaged in managing the paper, so I expect it will continue to be published even after his death. I will be among the people who will continue to read it.

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