Two Days In

This morning, we commence our second full day in Ajijic. Staying in an AirBnB is a different experience, in many ways,  from staying at my brother’s house. Though the rental is quite nice, it doesn’t begin to match the feeling that I am “home” at my brother’s place. We went to his place yesterday, where my sister-in-law was in the midst of planning for my brother’s eightieth birthday bash; the moment I walked in, a sense of relaxation washed over me; it was an odd but extremely comforting feeling. The reason we are staying in a rental is this: there are more guests than beds. Two other brothers, my nephew and his wife, and another nephew (birthday boy’s son) are taking the guest beds. My brother’s other son is staying with friends. My wife and my sister and I are in the rental. Another crowd, family of my brother’s friend who also is celebrating his eightieth, is being accommodated elsewhere. Quite the logistical challenge; fortunately, my sister-in-law is up to it. Today is the day of the big celebration…and then some rest.

As I discovered during our recent trip to the Balkans, I am not up to a lot of walking, especially on inclines or stairs. That situation, not to mention extremely rough cobblestone streets and crumbling, narrow sidewalks, makes exploring Ajijic a real challenge. I will adapt. My brother and sister-in-law have offered to let me use their car; I might. Our rental has a one car garage. But other matters argue against it. We shall see.

Last night, over a magnificent dinner at a new Cuban/Caribbean restaurant (Sabor Caribe Ajijic, open-air, in a magical setting), I asked my wife whether she would object if I were to find a three month rental in Ajijic and spend time here…just exploring and deciding whether I could adapt to life here. She said she would not, so long as I did not expect her to come along. I told her I would rather she join me, but she is not prepared to do it. So, my dilemma is this: do I explore a possibility that could enchant me and draw me in, knowing I could not pursue the possibility without upending our lives, or do I forgo the possibility and forever wonder what I might have missed?

I have much to mull over. But, then, I always do.

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Distant Presence

I wonder if she hears me rifling about in her dream? Probably not. We’re both fast asleep and many miles apart. But if there’s anything to the occult, she might sense my presence as I pull back the covers and watch her nightgown gently rise and fall with her slow, rhythmic breathing. And she might feel me stroke her shoulders and her neck…though probably not. We’re both dreaming, after all. And, as I said, we’re distant; miles apart. This is not real, not in the physical sense. Yet I am only an arm’s reach away from her. I see and touch her across distance. In the same way, she knows how very close she is to me.

We’re having the same wishful, wistful dream. She wants to caress me as much as I want to caress her. Synchronicity is the reason I feel her presence so much of the time. We both want the same things at the same time. It’s a metaphysical thing. But very physical, too.

If I listen, as I sleep, I can hear her breathing. I can feel her urgency as she stands near my bed, wanting desperately to join me in my cocoon. But she dare not. Her husband would hear her rustle and my wife would feel the presence of another woman in the room. And, of course, neither of us could control our vocal acknowledgement and appreciation of flesh upon flesh.

I said she probably wouldn’t hear me rifling about in her dream, didn’t I? I wonder whether I believe that or… I wonder whether we both feel such a deep emotional and physical desire that we risk erupting in unbridled passion at any moment? Even now, as our spouses sleep soundly next to us, are we in danger of an explosive revelation of our indescribably powerful sensual magnetism?

***

Day breaks, prying loose the vice-like grips of magnetic lust. Morning rips at me as if I were a tiny, newborn lamb and it were a ravenously hungry wolf.  I disappear in shreds down the gullet of the day, consumed as a pitiful stand-in for raw energy.

I keep my distance from last night’s dreams, if that’s what they were. More likely they were delusional fantasies, fed by recollections of my time in the Second World War. I spent months in Africa, defending humankind against God knows what. It was there I met Lisa and broke every vow I’d ever made. But that wasn’t me, was it? I wasn’t even born during the Second World War. Yet I remember clearly the brutality of battle. The horror of losing friends to grenades and bullets and shrapnel is etched into my brain so deeply nothing can remove the images from my mind.

These are the components of madness. These experiences across time and distance shred my brain into fibers so thin and fragile I cannot imagine ever healing, no matter how much medicine I apply. These experiences are unquestionably real, but they are no more than my imagination, damaged and let loose by alcohol and muscle memory. I flit between the blood-soaked sands of Africa and Lisa’s bedroom, crossing massive amounts of time and distance in the time it takes to inhale the odor of state cigarette smoke and the stench of urine. I can’t stand this! If I weren’t tied to the four posts of this institutional bed I would scratch my eyes out!

***

By the time the medications begin to take effect, the hallucinations…if that’s what they were…subside into the sticky fog of uncomfortable memory. The metal bedframe to which I am tied shows evidence that I am one of many who have tried to escape.

I’m trying to type this on my notebook, without my mouse and my detachable keyboard. It’s not working. I keep getting lost in my technological madness, veering away from my mental decay, so it’s hard to keep going. Enough of this for now. We’re off to Dallas in a while and, then, tomorrow, to Mexico. Whether I’ll blog while I’m there remains to be seen.

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On Time

Days race by, behaving as if the clock hurries to complete its tasks quickly, lest time render the hands of the clock unable to accurately measure the duration of the unfolding of experience. There will come a moment, or perhaps it already has come and gone, when “hands of a clock” is a meaningless phrase; an arcane reference to an artifact of human history as precious and pointless as a sundial.

Physicists and poets argue about the genesis of time, though quiet conversations about competing theories of the physical and spiritual worlds hardly can be called arguments. The measurement of time is both expanding and contracting. By the way, can theories that do not intersect, even tangentially, be called competitors?

We speak different languages, hopelessly engaged in innocuous gibberish communications. Some argue that red is a point on the spectrum of physical light, while others assert the superiority of salmon as both a flavor and a hue. Yet both assertions rely on the supremacy of time to define the moment at which a fact can be measured.

We must know both “where” and “when,” but “where” cannot be without “when” and “when” relies on “where” as well. Yet we hedge our bets with “sometime” and “someplace,” hoping to escape the certainty of when and where.

For example, a street corner in New York City exists only within precise parameters of time, so location really is time dependent. That street corner did not exist a thousand years ago and will not exist a thousand years hence.

And time’s measure, whether on a clock’s face or in the shadow of a sundial, depends on where it is taken.

 

 

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Let’s Get Skeptical…Skeptical

Skepticism invades my brain. It’s a unique skepticism that constantly grows, thanks to the kudzu of evidence  of the innate biases present in all news sources. I’m not referring just to American or Western news sources; I assert that bias infects all news sources. It’s natural, I think. News is presented within the framework of the news organization’s understanding of the society in which it functions. If one’s framework of understanding was built in America by Americans, it’s logical to assume the framework will be biased; it’s “slant” probably will paint a rosier picture of its host society than another news source, one from an “enemy” country for example, might. Iranian or Bosnian or Peruvian news, similarly, are biased because of their frameworks of understanding.

With that as a backdrop, I am skeptical of what I read and hear. Everything. And I’m growing more skeptical every day. I don’t automatically believe what I read or hear on CNN, the New York Times, Fox News, or NPR. Nor do I fully buy into BBC online, Sarajevo Today, the Toronto Star, or Today Venezuela. But I find the news offered by each source informative, if not necessarily completely factual. I learn things I wouldn’t know if I limited my consumption of news to the ones various political parties want me to mainline. Today, for example, I learned by reading an article in the Sarajevo Times (an English-language newspaper) that the relationship between Iran and Bosnia and Herzegovina is strong and growing stronger. And I learned that Chinese President Xi Jinping is viewed, at least by Sarajevo Times (ST) editorial writers, as far more responsible, intelligent, and future-focused than Western leaders.  The paper says the recent “clash of civilizations worldview in the West…is dangerously irresponsible.” I can’t agree more.  Yet I’m skeptical of ST, too, and I read its pronouncements with a healthy assumption that the paper, like others, has a significant credibility deficit.

I suppose my skepticism arises, in part, from the fact that I have to rely on English-language versions of newspapers and television news and other such source. The fact that these news outlets are designed for an English-speaking audience suggests some built-in bias. And I’m always afraid of translations, when stories were not written initially in English; translations seem always to miss the message between the lines. When I discuss a translated article with a native speaker who has read the original (admittedly an extremely rare occurrence), I sometimes pick up on subtle messages that aren’t relayed in the translated version.

The bias in U.S. media is absolutely obvious in some areas. For example, I think it’s impossible to find a single reputable source of news in the U.S. that isn’t inherently biased against Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, and any other country our “leaders” have labeled the “enemy.” Our media accepts that those countries are the “bad” that contrasts with our “good.” Reporting about the embargo against Venezuela, for example, almost always deal with the impact (or lack thereof) of the embargo on the political situation in that country; the unwritten but obvious position of the news media is that the embargo is good. Because it’s “us.” Rarely is the embargo’s impact on Venezuelan citizens examined; how often do we learn about a mother who cannot afford (or simply cannot get access to) diabetes medications for her daughter, thanks to the embargo? Another example of bias slaps me in the face whenever I open a browser window with FoxNews. The pro-Trump drivel is so utterly obvious and appallingly biased that it’s almost impossible to read or watch; but I do, because I want to know what horseshit is being fed to the deeply unthinking masses (I guess I’m rather biased, too, yes?). But the same is true with CNN. CNN once seemed pretty straightforwardly “news and nothing but news. ” Today, it is a biased rag that looks exactly like a propaganda machine. I don’t know what changed. Is it my perspective of what I read and see and hear or, instead, is the content different? Perhaps a bit of both.

Yet none of them (the reputable media) are “fake news,” as the moron who thinks he’s king spouts. They’re just biased; they offer news through a filter that appeals to their sensibilities.

Speaking of Sarajevo, during our recent tour of the Balkans, I got a taste of how one’s perspectives are colored by one’s environment. I grew up in an environment in which Josip Broz Tito was painted as a brutal dictator, a monster responsible for the suffering of Yugoslavians (I touched on this recently, so this paragraph is something of a rehash). Through the lens of many people who lived in the former Yugoslavia during his reign, though, he was a revered leader who brought stability and comfort. Could the reports from news media in Yugoslavia have influenced Yugoslavians’ perspective of the man’s leadership? Of course. And could American news coverage have influenced our views of his leadership? Undoubtedly. In both cases, though, I think it bears considering the extent to which the powers of government to influence news media might have played a part. Might, hell. They do. Governments’ willingness to release information (or not) and the quality and content and scope of information released has to play an enormous role in how we see the world. In my view, that’s not talked about enough. We ought to openly question the extent to which the news that reaches us is manipulated, either overtly or covertly, through government influence. I’m not suggesting the media is government controlled (it is, of course, in some places), but I do suggest the media often has no choice but to accept what it’s told as “truth” when, in fact, it may be entirely manufactured.

In today’s environment, in which the President openly challenges the legitimacy of the media and asserts that any questions or comments that challenge his supremacy are “fake,” I’m afraid the very real biases of the media are being blown into monstrous, artificial assertions that the media is a machine designed to lie for the sole purpose of bringing down the President. The manipulator-in-chief is attempting to use the flaws in the media as entry points for his axes; a tiny crack attracts the blade of his pick like a magnet.

Yes, I’m wandering all over creation with this post. I started on a road that diverged in the wood and took one that led me on a spiral; then it took me across a hatch-work of intersecting paths where all the answers I sought, trodden underfoot, were no longer recognizable. All I want are answers, yet questions are all I find.

That little Frost reference has triggered in me a desire to write some poetry. I think I shall. But not here. Not yet.

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Adequately Altruistic or Acquisitive

Among other difficulties with wealth redistribution programs is the problem that involves reaching agreement on the definitions of two adjectives: “enough” and “too much.” If we could achieve collective accord on what constitutes enough and how much is too much, the problem of wealth inequality might vaporize in an instant.

“Enough” is probably the easier term about which to come to agreement, although having “enough” to simply sustain life bears little resemblance to having “enough” to live comfortably. The definition of comfort, then, enters into the equation and, of course, the idea of what is comfortable seems to vary radically from person to person and place to place. I might insist that comfort must include a home whose ambient temperatures range between 68F and 78F, while someone else might be perfectly happy with 58F to 65F (and uncomfortable outside that range). And comfort can involve the degree to which one’s belly is full and one’s hunger sated.

Luxuries, too, begin to invade the territory of comfort. “Enough” whiskey for one man might mean an amount sufficient to deaden the pain of his sense of inadequacy, whereas “enough” for his wife might equate to the absence of its odor within thirty yards of the house in which she lives.

Obviously, I think, the problem of wealth redistribution rests squarely with a common human character trait: greed. But even greed is not subject to readily agreeable measures. When does “need” morph into “need” and when does desire blossom into full-formed greed? It depends on who you ask. The complex web of want and need and desire and willingness (or unwillngness) to sacrifice for the greater good creates an impossibly byzantine labyrinth. A willingness to share—to sacrifice a part of one’s own wealth so that others might enjoy a greater degree of comfort—is possible only when everyone is asked to do the same. But when is that the case? Individual greed or fear or envy can wreck the concept that “a rising tide raises all boats.”

I know I could keep my thermostat at a setting lower or higher than my “normal” and still be reasonably comfortable. If by doing so, I could be assured that someone else—someone who has been unable to achieve that level of comfort—could have an improved life, I might do it. But I’m likely to do it only if I believe I am not being asked to absorb the full weight of the sacrifice; others must do the same. And the same is true when considering the number of pots and pans in the kitchen, the number of beds in the house, the blankets available during the cold of winter, and the amount of food in my refrigerator. And whether I even have access to a refrigerator solely for my own use. If we all shared, we could all be happy. Or could we?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I know many people who would, I think, give the clothes off their backs to help others. I know many others who wouldn’t give uneaten food off their plates to a starving child.

The answer, if there is one, would have to begin in infancy and continue through adulthood; we would all need to agree to teach what churches and temples and schools of philosophy have attempted to teach for eons. But it hasn’t worked so far, has it? If it had been sufficient, hunger and homelessness and unemployment and starvation would not be so prevalent.

I think about such matters all the time. Literally all the time. And that constant contemplation does nothing but drum into me the hopelessness that humanity will ever rise above its pitiful level of petty greed. But maybe, if enough people continue thinking about such stuff, eventually a solution will emerge out of the collective consciousness. Do I believe that? The answer depends on whether my mood is that of an optimist or a realist. I try not to be a pessimist; realism is sufficient for that.

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Retrospective Contemplation

Roughly one year has passed since my lung cancer diagnosis. The process of exploring it began on September 7 last year, when I saw my doctor for a persistent cough. Two x-rays and a CT scan later, a preliminary diagnosis was made; around October 10. From there, the number of types of tests accelerated. PET scan, lung function test, biopsy, etc., etc. The result of the PET scan, delivered to me on October 19, reaffirmed the preliminary diagnosis of lung cancer. But, still, a biopsy would be necessary to be certain. It wasn’t until November 2 that I got the final, official word: the biopsy confirmed lung cancer. And, after a rush of tests and doctor visits and other such stuff related to my medical condition, I underwent surgery on November 19. The surgeon removed the lower lobe of my right lung, where the cancer had taken hold.  After a seven-day hospital stay, I returned home and limped along for quite a while, recovering from the gashes in my back and side and the holes left where drain hoses had been thrust into my lower chest from the side. My six-weeks of radiation therapy, five days a week, began in January, as did my four-courses of chemotherapy. Though I’ve said many times I was lucky and I had it easy (and I believe it), the experience was a bitch and I don’t want to go through it again.

So, why am I writing about this again? I guess it’s the fact that I recognize that I’m in the midst of a “moving anniversary” that began with my first doctor visit on September 7 and my formal diagnosis on November 2. That, and the fact that most recurrences of lung cancer occur during the five years following diagnosis. So, I’ve almost completed the first year; if my CT scan tomorrow (the results of which I won’t know until my appointment with Dr. Chen on October 24) is clear, I will have finished a year cancer-free. Just four more years to go before I can begin to feel some degree of comfort that recurrence isn’t likely. But, in reality, a recurrence is possible even well beyond five years. It’s just a fact of life that cancer can return. Such is the way of the world. There’s not a damn thing I can do to change it. I might improve my chances if I change my diet and engage in a consistent exercise regimen; whether I do either of those things reveals the value I put on extending my life. That’s a bit of a grim thought.

Another issue that probably influences me to continue thinking about my cancer is that I’ve not yet fully recovered. I still can’t walk up a hill or up many steps without getting badly out of breath. I tire easily. I’m still dealing with a godawful cough about which no one seems to be able to determine a cause or prescribe a successful treatment.

Last year, when faced with the possibility of surgery and subsequent treatments, I seriously considered having no treatments. I did not want to deal with the possibility that surgery could leave me in much worse condition than I started. I did not want to live as an invalid who could do nothing for himself and who very existence could be a monstrous burden on my wife and others. But I chose to go ahead with it because I was led to believe the process would be challenging but “doable.” And that’s true. But if faced with it again, I don’t know what I might decide. And that’s one of those things on my mind during this “anniversary” period.

I wish I could erase these matters from my mind, but I know I can’t. But I can try to minimize them and hide them from view. As hard as I am to live with on normal days, I must be an especially difficult person when death is on my mind.

The time is ripe for a shower and shave, followed by breakfast. Or maybe I’ll reverse the order. And, then, a bit later, off to church. I’m not in the mood for that, but I’ll go. I think the holiday from church services while we were in Europe got me used to owning my own Sundays again. I rather like that. But I should be willing to share them. Should. That’s the operative word.

 

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Attemptation

An article on CNN’s website, explaining why McDonald’s doesn’t sell McRib sandwiches year-round, spurred an idea. (First, I’ve never had a McRib sandwich and have no interest in trying one; but that’s beside the point.)

Actually, I’m impressed with McDonald’s rationale. It’s a marketing ploy based in large part on the concept of scarcity; scarcity tends to build hype, making an item attractive. On the one hand, that sort of manipulative behavior pisses me off; corporations should not exploit customers’ vulnerability in such matters. But on the other hand, I have to acknowledge that it’s a brilliant marketing tactic. [I have this love-hate relationship with successful marketing strategies; I loathe the corporate greed that marketing embodies, but I love the intellectual business acumen marketing can demonstrate.]

But I haven’t gotten to my idea yet. Okay, let me get to it. The idea is to create a travel route across the United States, with a four-day to five-day stop in carefully selected cities and towns. Before arriving in each city or town, I would take out ads in the local media in which I would promote a “limited time offering” of some  gimmicky special fast-food that would have some special significance to the location. I would then prepare large quantities of this gimmicky item to sell at my pop-up “food truck” (for lack of a better term). I would be sure my ads note that the food will be available for only a few days, but will be back (again for a very limited time) in a year or so.

After I have collected and counted my money, I will pack up and move on to the next location, taking great care to pump up interest in my next food product with heavy advertising. I can envision enormous sales of my super-special products: tamales in one town, hot dogs in another, ćevapčići in yet another, etc., etc. From town to town, I might simply modify some of my more popular items. For example, if my lamb-based hot dogs (which I might call “Sheep Dogs” as part of the marketing plan) were especially well-received in a community in which lamb is consumed in large quantities, I might create lamb-based ćevapčići sticks, flavored with vindaloo spices, in a town with similar meat consumption and a large population of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. You know, marketing. Market research. Quantifying the customer. All those markety things. What might I call those lamb log sort of things? “Sheep Spears.” That might work. Might not.

As I consider this idea, it occurs to me that the concept may have been born as much out of my wanderlust as my intrigue with food-focused marketing. Today’s idea may simply be a somewhat softer expression of yesterday’s exercise in abject location-locked frustration. I wonder whether I’d get tired of traveling from town to town? Maybe. But if I were to pack as light as I’d like, and had ready access to a washing machine and drier (or a clothes line), it wouldn’t be such a challenge. Of course I’d want each town to have a seedy bar where everyone is friendly and welcoming; though I’d want to be comfortable in absolute isolation when I desire it (which would be quite frequent, I think). And the motels would have to be cheap, clean, and comfortable. I would hope these towns would have libraries, too, with quiet rooms where I could go do research on the demographics of the next town.

It occurs to me I’d like to have places where people can sit and eat, under umbrellas, after they buy from me. Maybe I would give them discounts if they bring their own utensils; you know, bowls or plates and forks. That would add to the unique environment and would save me money and time in clean-up. “Bring your own bowl and spoon for a $0.50 discount on John’s Hot-Head Chile!” I’ll have to work this thing out, of course, before I launch my cross-country tour. Where I’ll go, what I’ll serve, how I’ll get my products, where I’ll store them, where I’ll cook and the locations from which I’ll serve. And all the rest.

Like so many other of my ideas, I think this one may be one of those that I call my “launch and leave” endeavors. I’d love to get it started, but I’m afraid my interest would wane quite fast. The way it does with almost everything in which I’m interested. I get sidetracked. I lose interest; or maybe it’s passion I lose. Whatever it is, the spark or the ember or the burning flame gets quenched and I’m left with the ashes of an idea that no longer seems particularly appealing. My enthusiasm ebbs until it finally reaches bottom. It happens fast, too, like the tides of the Bay of Fundy.

I don’t have the personality to promote this idea. I couldn’t do it on an ongoing basis, anyway. I can’t present a cheerful presence when I don’t feel cheerful. You have to be able to make people feel good about buying from you. And you can’t do that when your facial expressions betray depression or boredom or hopelessness. My face suggests I’m in the midst of those emotions even when I’m perfectly content. The face of a serial killer itching for his next victim. No one’s ever told me I have that face, but sometimes I look in the mirror and am frightened by who I see; I can’t call the police because I might be held for observation. “He said he was afraid the guy in the mirror was going to kill him,” the officer would tell the judge. And the judge would say, “I’d cut you loose, sir, if only to get another taste of your ćevapčići sticks, but I can’t in good conscience risk letting you go, only to learn later you’d been murdered.”

It’s not funny, really. I think many of my ideas are, or could be, million-dollar endeavors, but they would require intense, long-term follow-through. I can lose interest in a sneeze half-way through the experience, so I’m afraid I am condemned to be on the lookout for my ideas being implemented successfully. I watch as someone else becomes wealthy enough to buy an isolated Pacific island, while I imagine myself sitting by the side of the road with a flat tire outside Valentine, Nebraska, stranded and broke. I might like Valentine, Nebraska. I might not.

I understand that the post office in Valentine, Nebraska gets enormous increases in mail volume around Valentine’s Day as people send their materials there so they can be postmarked “Valentine.” If that can’t excite me, nothing can.

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This, Too

Perhaps we just needed a little urging to embark on a road trip. The road trip I’ve been wanting to take ever since we moved to Arkansas 5+ years ago.  Whether the trip materializes remains to be seen, but at least its outline appears to be taking shape in our plans.  Yeah. That’s happened before, though.

Upon our return from Mexico (we’re driving to Dallas, leaving our car there, then flying back from Guadaljara), we’ll spend a day or two in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We may then head up to Fort Smith for a day or two to visit with friends there. But a look at our calendar this morning asserts that the term “road trip” clearly cannot apply to this brief journey; I have a delayed propane service scheduled during the week I had hoped to be “on the road.” And, the following day, an appointment with my oncologist screams at me. So, the best case is a very brief visit in Dallas and a very brief visit in Fort Smith and a quick drive home to get back in the habit of allowing our lives to be ruled by the calendar.

We’ve escaped the calendar before, though. We spent seventeen days in Europe last month. And we’ve demanded a seven-day release from calendar duties for the Mexico trip. So we know it can be done. We just have to commit to doing it. I can make that commitment. I can change appointments or cancel and reschedule them. I can treat the calendar like a suggestion, not like an unbending master who controls me as if I were a slave. But the calendar isn’t the only issue. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m growing increasingly frustrated with artificial obligations. That is, unnecessary commitments that purport to own my time. These demands on my time sometimes remind me of bad jokes, enhanced in the extreme: “Oh, I would so love to get together with you for lunch, but I have an appointment that day to have the lower half of my left ear lobe photographed. And you know how hard it is to get on the ear-photographer’s schedule.” Some of the demands on my time/our time seem to be just as critical as having an ear-picture done.

Yet some of the obligations, once made, deserve to be met, without complaint. I agreed to the appointments with Dr. Chen and Dr. Chu; even though I don’t like the time they take, I agreed to them, so that’s that. And I readily agreed to be the feature poet for Wednesday Night Poetry at the end of the month; for several reasons, I need to fulfill that obligation. And there are more. Not all mine, personally, but obligations that involve me in some form or another.

Carving a week or two or, God forbid, an entire month out of our schedule seems damn near an impossible task.  Maybe, though, I can find a way to carve a week or two for myself, alone. I am, after all, the one who seems to be going stark-raving mad in the face of servitude to the almighty calendar. Is it outside the realm of reason to free myself from the clutches of the calendar for just a week? Would I be forgiven for breaking the shackles of bondage and escaping just long enough to breathe free for a time?

But I don’t know whether I’m suited to solo road trippery. Though I am a loner through and through, I need company. That’s odd, I think. I prefer my own company most of the time and am perfectly happy to avoid crowds and even to stay away from small groups of likable people; but I need human contact. And not just any human contact. I need contact that permits me to be the misanthropic geezer, with allowances for intermittent periods of intense humanitarianism. I am, without a doubt, a hard person to be around. A hard person to like. Maybe even an impossible person to like. I know I couldn’t stand being around someone like me; at least not for long. Fortunately, I don’t have to listen to myself talk. I don’t have to put up with endless rants and complaints about the faults of humans as a species.

Looking at myself from a distance, as a dispassionate observer, I see someone who resembles a nickel. One side of the nickel is hard and sharp. When it hits the hard surface of a concrete street, it makes a loud, metallic sound that hurts the ears of everyone in close proximity. That side of the nickel preens itself to maintain that hard, dangerous, appearance; it grooms itself to look and sound dangerous. To warn people away from getting too close.

The other side of the nickel has spent its lifetime intentionally wearing its hard surface to a soft patina that’s pleasing to the touch. Where the other side of the coin is sharp dangerous, this side is worn and welcoming. This side is tattered by time and exposure to the rough edges of the world; its satiny sheen offers a warm, emotional embrace to those who need to escape a hard world.

My mood this morning is, in a word or two, sour and sad. I have no business recording all this angst and anger for the world to see, except that it will serve, later, as a reminder of just how bitter and upset and angry I can feel; even when I can’t put my finger on anything specific that causes those emotions to well up. Fortunately, this sort of mood is relatively rare and short-lived; at least it has been until now. I can only hope this, too, shall pass.

 

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The Man Who Loved Poetry

Poetry did not die with him, but it
might not have lived without him.
Bud Kenny loved poetry almost as
much as poetry loved him.

Absent Bud’s unapologetic shoulders
upon which to sit and proclaim its
fierce entanglement with the head
and the heart, poetry might not have
become the emotional anchor for a
thousand men and women who needed
an outlet to express despair and passion,
rage and affection, sorrow and sympathy.

But he taught all who crossed his path that
poetry, as both a shield and a sword, demands
justice and metes out healing love with
phrases that capture all of life’s complexity.
Bud transformed poetry’s reputation from the
weak baby brother who hid behind the superior
power of prose to the ferocious big sister
who extracted every ounce of raw emotion
from each beautifully sculpted syllable.

He taught Hot Springs to love poetry
the way a parent loves a child; as a
gentle coach, always urging offspring
to become their best and most beautiful selves.
In Bud’s eyes, we were his lyrical children.
And Bud Kenny loved poetry almost as
much as poetry, his lyrical children, loved him.


It was perhaps fitting that Bud Kenny died on a Wednesday, October 2, 2019. He was a creator and promoter of Wednesday Night Poetry for many, many years (the first one being February 1, 1989). It has not, to this day, missed a single week, thanks in large part to Bud Kenny’s fierce dedication. I already miss Bud.

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Cars Bite

The Subaru had its 60K maintenance yesterday, along with new brake pads. I feel confident I could have purchased a serviceable used car for what we paid to keep the four-year-old vehicle operating as intended. Except there’s this one thing…

For literally a couple of years, I’ve been meaning to mention to the service advisors that the automatic tracking headlights (or whatever they are called) don’t seem to work. When we first got the car, I noticed the lights (at night) seemed to move and “wash” the roadside as we rounded curves. Sort of cool. But that stopped at some point. We don’t drive much at night, so we didn’t notice the absence often; but I noticed it. I just kept forgetting to inquire. Well, yesterday I did.

I was told our car does not have auto tracking lights. Maybe fog lights, but not headlights. Okay, I said, what about that. They checked. No, you don’t have any of that stuff. I left; dissatisfied and a little miffed. I pulled out the sticker that was on the car window when we bought it. Sure enough, it had the fog light package; lights that “moved.”

I’ve decided the problem began in 2017 when we had the 30K mile maintenance. It was then that we complained about the GPS not working properly. They reinstalled the software. Yesterday, when the guys were checking, I noticed that they checked the software associated with the GPS; that’s where they looked but did not find the fog light sofware. Bingo! When they “fixed” the software in 2017, they must have deleted or overwritten the fog light software.

So…I will take the car back to Subaru after our next road trip. And we’ll see what they decide to do about it.

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Failure

Suddenly, nothing matters anymore. Not a damn thing. We tried to make it make a difference, but it didn’t. And so we drift off, knowing we failed.

That’s how he left it; a note written in dust on top of a bathroom vanity in an abandoned hotel on the bridge side of Kent Island, Maryland. The remnants of Hemingway’s Restaurant remained barely visible amidst the detritus left by hurricanes and the “domestic conflict,” as Eric once called the conflagration. It wasn’t a “domestic conflict” any more than World War II was a global skirmish; it was a hellish revelation of the soul of a nation built on hypocrisy and falsehoods. The fact that it took place in every hidden corner of the country, from the wheat fields of Kansas to the back alleys of New York City and the coastal tidewaters of Louisiana exposed just how deep the festering wounds had become.

Eric’s note hit me as hard as anything ever has. It forced me to accept that, of all people, he had given up on a country he once believed in so fervently I could see it in the set of his jaw. I never agreed with him, but I admired the strength of his convictions.

His note revealed how badly broken he had become. I had no idea where he was planning to go, but I knew one thing for certain; he would leave the United States and would never return. He accepted the country was a failed state. That acceptance must have been impossibly hard to reach for a staunch patriot.

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You Would Look Just Fine if You Were Naked

I chose to ignore the clock’s suggestion after I awoke to pee, opting instead to remain upright and awake. The time, 3:48 a.m., suggested a return to bed and to sleep would have been appropriate. But putting on my morning clothes and making a cup of coffee seemed right to me.

Am I in the minority, I wonder; I mean, do others have “morning clothes,” a wardrobe subset between sleepwear and daytime apparel?

I’ve seen others’ morning clothes, but I don’t know whether they also constitute sleeping clothes; for some reason, I’ve not been invited in to others’ bedrooms to view their nightwear. Yet I have seen people emerge from bedrooms, dressed in outfits that readily fit into my category of “morning wear.” I would inquire about the nature of their clothing, except it might seem slightly creepy. It might even seem unacceptably forward (or, perhaps, far worse) to ask a woman friend, as she emerges from the guest room in the early morning hours, “Are you wearing what you wore to bed?”

As I consider my “morning wear,” it occurs to me that part of my wardrobe also constitutes what I’ll call “post day wear attire.” I’ll describe it: a baggy pair of workout shorts with an elastic waistband, a baggy t-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops. Generally, this extremely comfortable part of my wardrobe constitutes my clothing before I must leave the house in “presentable” form and after I return for the duration; that is, after I’m “in for the night.”

Part of the allure of “home,” I think, could be the comfort one associates with one’s dress at home. Social conventions that call for clothing that binds the body and the feet in unnatural ways may be abandoned at home; unless, of course, one expects more formal visitors to come calling. If one has real friends who might appear at one’s doorsteps, one does not need to put on pretensions by dressing up for them; friends accept and appreciate the casual and slothful comforts of one another.

I started to call my footwear by another name that I used to use to describe them: “thongs.” But the definition of “thongs” has morphed to describe clothing that barely covers one’s genitalia, it seems; other terms for “thongs” include “G-string” and “butt-floss.” So I chose the safer, less suggestive, alternative. Being unwilling to rely entirely on my memory to recall other terms for my favorite footwear, I looked it up; I have a very close relationship with dictionaries and their ilk.

The footwear we lately called “flip-flops” goes by several other names in other cultures and countries. Here’s a partial list:

  • zōri in Japan
  • dép tông or dép xỏ ngón in Vietnam
  • chinelos in Brazil
  • japonki in Poland
  • dacas in Somalia
  • sayonares in Greece
  • jandal in New Zealand
  • slippers in Hawaii, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Netherlands
  • infradito in Italy
  • djapanki in Bulgaria
  • charlie wote in Ghana
  • japanke in Croatia
  • vietnamki in Russia and Ukraine
  • yezenes in Latvia

I’ve chosen not to mention the specifics of my sleepwear; it’s not that I’m shy, it’s just that the discussion probably belongs in another, yet-to-be-written post.

But back to the matter of those elements of one’s wardrobe one wears around the house when greater formality is not expected but comfort is demanded: I wonder whether I am in the minority. I slog through most days in reasonable comfort, wearing shorts (with a belt), a moderately loose shirt (long pants and a sweater in days gone by, before climate change robbed us of Fall and Winter), and tennis shoes. Even those clothes, though, are too constrictive. Belts (as necessary as they are to prevent pants around the ankles at inopportune times) remind me of ties; they must have been born in years long past as instruments of torture. And shoes, with or without laces, represent vestiges of foot binding; they should be regulated to ensure non-constriction.

Ultimately, it all comes down to comfort. And, of course, it comes back to one of my favorite, but socially-unacceptable, topics: nudity. Why the hell don’t we just get over our puritanical psychoses and accept nudity as a natural aspect of humanity? “Nakedness” is the ultimate comfort (granted, for men (at least this one), wearing briefs prevents potentially painful swings and dangles). We’ve been trained to look at certain parts of the human body as either ugly or forbidden or both. And I’ll admit that there are certain parts of certain people (here, I raise my hand) that are not particularly pleasing. But we can get over that if we give ourselves time. People whose faces were disfigured by fire may not be immediately attractive, but we get used to seeing them and, if we get to know the people, we find their unique appearances appealing. The same would happen were nudity to be the next fashion trend. But we’re not even willing to entertain the idea, are we? No, I’m afraid we are not. There are too many wars to fight and cultures to conquer for us to think about the idiocy of legislated and enforced non-nudity. Jesus! Don’t get me started.

Okay, I’ll admit that some clothes are appealing. Like I said, I’m apt to wear briefs, even after the Apparel Enlightenment comes. And if I’m cold, I’ll cover up. And you can bet that I’ll wear long pants, both to protect me from the cold and to keep me from getting scratched as I amble through blackberry patches. Hell, if the environment calls for them, I’ll wear chaps, for God’s sake. But, generally speaking, I advocate for comfort over beauty. Beauty has its place, of course; I’ll never argue that beauty should be erased. But let’s be reasonable and conscious, always, of comfort, shall we?

This diatribe started with my contemplating morning-wear. I’m still waiting for an answer. Are there others whose uniforms are day-part specific? That is, certain attire for post-sleep pre-departure periods, other attire for walking around in the world, and yet other (or a return to post-sleep stuff) upon return to one’s lair. I think an exhaustive Gallup survey or full-scale information inventory should be conducted to answer my questions. We should know whether our habilimental habits are unique or whether our behaviors are widespread and embraced by our fellow human beings. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say access to this knowledge is a fundamental human right, I think it’s not wrong.

Back to clothing that I’d happily wear (beyond briefs), even after the Apparel Enlightenment. I’ve written before about my desire to design and produce clothing that has sufficient pockets of adequate size in appropriate places so I can carry all my “stuff” in readily accessible locations. I still want that. Nudity does nothing to make cell-phones and car keys and pocket knives and note pads and pens easier to carry. A well-designed shirt (or vest or pants or wearable “man-purse”) can better meet those needs than can a naked body. There’s a place for clothing. I’m not anti-clothing; I’m just opposed to forced cover-ups.

This one-way conversation seems to have gotten away from what I call flip-flops. I cannot convey specific attributes of flip-flops that make a particular pair appealing; but there must be certain characteristics I like and others I don’t, because I don’t like every pair I’ve worn. Yet I can’t say why I like some and don’t like others. I’d better hurry up and find out, though, because my remaining pairs of flip-flops are nearing their end-times. I’ve repaired a couple of pairs within the past few months. And I’ve reluctantly discarded others that were beyond repair. I’m left with very few pairs of usable flip-flops, each of them with limited lives left to them. So I need new ones at the ready. Now, as Fall approaches from a blazing distance, is not the time to buy flip-flops. I should have bought new ones in early Springs. But I may need replacements before next Spring (I wear flip-flops indoors, even in Winter). Achh! Well, I will have to make do with what I have, I suppose. I’ll have to wear a pair or two that do not fully measure up in terms of comfort. I like spongy soles and soft straps. Some of my remaining pairs have hard soles and leather straps I’ve allowed to harden into strips like dried mesquite branches. I’ll accept the lessons those flip-flops are teaching me.

It’s nearing 6:30 and I’ve allowed my first cup of coffee to go cold. Time to replace the tepid liquid in my cup with hot stuff. I have to shower and shave before long, in preparation for my visit to my doctor for my annual physical. That means I’ll abandon my morning clothes for attire deemed more acceptable in the broader society outside my doors. Lace-up shoes; belted shorts, and button-down shirt (but not tucked in, by God!). After the physical, I’ll reward myself in some fashion. Perhaps it will be lunch at the newest Village restaurant, xPlore Lakeside. Or maybe I’ll wander into Hot Springs in search of flip-flops. Or something else. Time will tell. My spouse has another doctor’s appointment in Little Rock this morning, so I’m on my own for awhile after my physical; I have the freedom to wander aimlessly through the countryside if I wish.  Ach! Just two more hours until the physical. I’d better go for coffee while I have the chance.

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Visionarium

Malcolm Disarray’s eyesight decayed over the course of ten years, beginning when he was thirty-one years old, at the rate of less than six percent per year. By the time he was forty-one, he was nearly blind. What little he could see was black and white, like smudges left on one’s clothing after handling the remnants of partially burned firewood. Despite evaluations by the country’s best ophthalmologists and neurologists, no one could find even a hint of a reason for his loss of sight. All the medical professionals who examined him agreed on one thing, though: his diminished eyesight must be related in some way to his simultaneous loss of the ability to taste and smell.  Unlike his eyesight, though, those senses were completely gone by his forty-first birthday.

While Malcolm’s eyesight and sense of taste and smell degraded slowly degraded, his remaining senses sharpened. His hearing improved significantly; he could tell who was in the room just listening to a single breath. He could tell by the flutter of their wings what kinds of birds were flying near. Malcolm’s sense of touch improved so enormously it compensated for others. The change was so dramatic and so sudden it surprised him. And it surprised his wife.

“The red sauce is good but the green sauce is absolutely out of this world!” Malcolm smiled as he nodded in his wife’s direction.  A wrinkle knotted Linda’s forehead as she looked up from her plate to see Malcolm’s fingers touching the enchiladas on his plate. “Wh-wh-what? What are you doing to your food?”

“I can see the colors on my plate and I can smell and taste the food,” he replied. “But it’s not like it was before I lost my senses.  I can do it with my fingers, but it’s more intense. It’s hard to explain.”

A look of alarm crossed Linda’s face. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but didn’t make any sounds. Finally, words escaped. “I don’t understand. You can taste and smell with your fingers?”

“Yeah. It sounds crazy, but I can. And when I brush my fingers across your face,” he said as he smeared his sauce-laden fingers across her check, “I can see you clearly, too. I can see the color of your skin and I can tell that you’re wearing a green blouse. And I can smell a hint of Proraso aftershave on your neck…”

Suddenly, Malcolm’s previously joyous expression turned dark. “Where did that aroma come from? I don’t use Proraso.”

“You’re mistaken, Hon, I’m not wearing any aftershave!” A hollow, artificial chuckle accompanied Linda’s words. Her eyes narrowed and beads of sweat seemed to erupt from her forehead.

“I didn’t say you were wearing it. I said I smell a hint of it. Like you’ve been with someone who was wearing it. Who would that be?”

“This is crazy, Malcolm! First, you surprise me with the revelation that you can see and smell and taste by touch and next you suggest I’ve been with another man because you think you smell aftershave! Get a grip!”

Malcolm sighed deeply. “Okay. You’re right. It is crazy. I’m sorry. I just felt this sudden burst of sensations…they’re just overwhelming…I don’t know…” His voice trailed off and his head slumped forward.

Linda reach across the table and put her hand on his shoulder. “Let’s focus on what you’ve just discovered. That you’re able to actually replaced senses you lost long ago!”

***

Four months to the day after smearing enchilada sauce over his wife’s cheeks, Malcolm Disarray was involuntarily committed to a psychological hospital in Syracuse, New York, well over one hundred miles from his home in Poughkeepsie. It wasn’t his claimed abilities to “see” and “smell” and “taste” through his fingers that got him placed there. Those remarkable abilities were clearly real for anyone to witness. What got him placed in a psychiatric hospital was his insistence that his wife and her unknown lover were plotting his demise. He had no evidence, only a “feeling” that his murder was being planned.

“Just like I can see her by touch, I can feel their planning with my fingers.” That sentence, alone, convinced Judge Armory Mason to grant the order of commitment. As he was being led from the courtroom, Malcolm screamed at the judge, “They’re going to try to make it look like suicide! You just wait, they’ll find me hanging by a bedsheet within a matter of days or weeks!”

And they did. But there’s more to the story than that. There must be. Mustn’t there?

I think the story went off the tracks before it reached the station. But it was moderately fun while it lasted.

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Another Birthday

I didn’t forget. I just wondered whether my practice of recognizing my mother’s birthday was unnecessary. Or maudlin. Or just odd. Ultimately, I decided it might be all of the above, but I opted to go on record to acknowledge it nonetheless. So, today would have been Mom’s birthday again. She was born in 1908. It seems like a million years ago. She never knew cell phones, Facebook, the horrors of Donald Trump, or garage doors that opened with the push of a button. Yet she didn’t complain that she never had access to a future that left her behind. Nor should any of us. We can’t know what we don’t know, nor can we know what we won’t know because aren’t there to know it. You know. Sort of ad infinitum. I’m not going to bother with spell check. At least not at this moment. At any rate, Happy Birthday, Mom. Were I a religious man, I’d wish you happiness in heaven. But as a heathen, I’ll say only that I still miss you and wish I could have told you all the things about which I later learned you were spot on; and I was wrong. But not everything, of course. You were not always right. But usually, you had reasons for the errors of your ways. Unlike me.

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Exploring an Empty Barrel

I spent part of the last hour of this morning reading bits and pieces of about six months’ worth of newsletters from the Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I’m not sure just why I found my way there. I started my related web travels by exploring car rental agencies in Ajijic but somehow crept across the street and down the road to the LCUUF , located in the same building as the Naked Stage, a readers’ theatre that is, as far as I can tell, like readers’ theaters everywhere. LCUUF, from what I gather from its website, is like other Unitarian Univeralist congregations, as one would expect. The difference, of course, is that it is located in an extremely “multicultural” community. I was interested to learn that the October 20 service, entitled “Crossing Cultures,” described as follows:

Most of us are migrants, people who’ve chosen to live in a culture different than our birth culture. How we do our living in a different land varies: some of us attempt to recreate ‘old home’ behind walls and gates, others ‘go native’, others somewhere in between. What does our approach to multiculturalism say about our worldview, our relationship with other people? How do we deepen our awareness and engagement with people of other cultures? How do we learn to live in ease in a multicultural world.

I wish I had known about the service before I bought our tickets; I might have stayed a few days longer just so I could have attended. Surprisingly, it has never occurred to me that ex-pats from the U.S. (and elsewhere) experience many of the same challenges and opportunities and fears and joys that immigrants to the States experience. Fortunately, ex-pats in Mexico don’t experience the level of rage and hatred and contempt (at least not yet) that so many immigrants in the U.S. experience. My interest in the service is based, I suppose, on learning what migrants say about their experience. And my interest in the LCUUF website, I suppose, is based on understanding the extent to which UUs in Mexico are (or are not) living within their own, non-multicultural world. That is, do they isolate themselves (at least socially) from the culture of which they are now a part? Or do they embrace the role of “minority” participant in a society that is truly foreign to them? Based on the service description, I suspect there’s a range of levels of integration and/or isolation; I’d like to hear the issue of integration discussed by people who live it; or don’t.

As long as my wife is not enthusiastic about exploring life in Mexico, I will not make any plans to do it. Which means, I expect, I will not do it; not now, not in the future. We bought our home here with the expectation and agreement, I think, that this would be “it.” Our final home. That sounds, to me, a little restrictive; a bit like deciding to live in a cage with no escape. Oh, I know, I’m being overly dramatic. I do that sometimes.

I wonder, though, if some day she might be amenable to living in or near Ajijic (or somewhere else, for that matter) for at least a few months at a time? I doubt I’ll ask her any time soon. We both have our own medical issues with which to wrestle, which makes the idea of embarking on a foreign adventure of any significant duration a bit more than ill-advised. But I can dream, can’t I? Yet I don’t even seem to have sufficient discipline to learn Spanish; whenever I begin, I encounter the idea, a few days in, of “why the hell bother…I’ll never really use it enough to go the trouble, will I?” For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been able to call up some legitimate reason to back away from significant commitments like moving to Mexico or living life on the road or what have you. I don’t know whether I’m afraid of the decision or the way it might wreck my stable, if somewhat boring, life. Stability. It has its benefits; it has its prices, too. The bottom line is that I’ll never sacrifice my wife’s happiness and comfort to enable me to pursue a wild hair that might well turn to a steel piano wire with which to strangle myself.

Back to LCUUF. I think I visited the website for the same reason I’ve visited several other UU websites in months and years past: to find something that will convince me the people are, or are not, “my people.” I’m still not sure. The simple fact that they do not buy into religious dogma does not make them intelligent, nor does it make them progressive or possessed of common sense or other traits I find appealing. So I suppose it’s safe to assume involvement in UU is not a sufficient measure that a person meets my measure of someone who could be “my people.” And, frankly, I’m not sure there are such measures. I mean, I know people who are conservative, very religious, and seemingly void of common sense that I find appealing (though they are not “my people,” by the way). So what is it that I’ve been after for these past 66 (almost) years? I’ve found a few of them. But even a two or three hour drive seems like a long drive when there are so many meaningless, mundane, utterly annoying errands and obligations to fulfill. Achhh!

I envision a small group of people who are fun to be around (and who find us fun, too) who meet regularly for drinks or dinner or both, who enjoy similar activities, who are willing to explore one anothers’ interests even when they don’t mirror others’, and who otherwise are appealing. And intelligent. And nonjudgmental. And progressive. And who can laugh…but who are fiercely opinionated and who, therefore, can snarl appropriately with the best of them. I’m wandering around my own mind as if it were an empty barrel and my ideas were bouncing off the sides in ricochet fashion. And that’s precisely what’s happening, I guess. Empty. That word always triggers the memory of a line from a Paul Simon song: “Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping. I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Let me begin to close this with a flippant comment; “I don’t know who the hell this Kathy is.” Seriously, though, the sense of emptiness always accompanies tentative explorations of things beyond my reach. Which may explain why emptiness is such a common companion; there are so many things beyond my reach. But, then, there are a million things beyond the reach of billions of us. Does that mean that we’re all awash in emptiness? I suspect not, but there’s no way to determine whether that’s true or not.

It’s past 1:00 p.m. I haven’t yet showered or shaved. What a sloth I am. Time to get tidied up for an early dinner out; only four hours away (our neighbors eat early; they agreed to an hour delay as a compromise, I think). That parenthetical comment is not entirely true. But they do prefer to eat early. Which is fine. To each his own. Or her own. I’m trying to teach myself not to be tolerant but, instead, accepting. I think I could use a tutor.

 

mood

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Confessions and Confetti

During the haze of sickness these last few days, I have taken to diversions that might distract me from the sensations one feels when one isn’t “well.” I find it impossible to adequately describe those sensations. I don’t feel pain, exactly; it’s more like a generally unpleasant sense that one’s body is not happy with the way it interacts with the world around it. A physical malaise of sorts; discomfort that’s instantly recognizable to me as I experience it, but impossible to describe in any way that accurately paints a picture of how I feel.  At any rate, while I’ve experienced this general physical disquiet, I’ve distracted myself with television and literature; the latter is a download I selected when I discovered the book I wanted was not available in physical form.

The television distraction is taking the form of a new made-for-Netflix series entitled “Unbelieveable.” The series is described as a “limited series,” which suggests to me I may not be given the satisfaction of knowing how the series ends; it may simply stop after the first eight episodes. I hope that’s not the case because I’ve become addicted. The series begins when a young woman reports being raped but later recants her statement, due in no small part to her inability to cope with suggestions from police and others that she might have manufactured the story. Two detectives, from different departments, follow similar rapes that seem extremely close in MO to the young girl’s case. The detectives, both women, team up to pursue what they believe is a serial rapist.  I’m only six episodes in, but feeling a sense of loss in the knowledge that only two episodes remain.

The literary distraction is a book on tape. The Cellist of Sarajevo, written by Steven Galloway and read by Gareth Armstrong. I’ve only listened to a fraction of the full recording, but already I’m hooked on the book. It is an extremely well-written novel (based in part on true stories and people) that grabbed me within the first few pages. The book tells the stories of four characters whose lives are threaded together for a time during the assault on Sarajevo by Serbian forces in the war of the nineties. I can tell already that it will become one of my favorite books. Listening to it being read is not only fascinating but educational; I am picking up ideas that I will use in my own writing. I recommend the book. I wish I could find a hard copy in the library, but I’m satisfied with hearing it read; actually, I might get addicted to having someone read so I can rest my eyes.

It’s interesting to me that I probably would not have had much interest in reading The Cellist of Sarajevo before visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina and walking the streets of Sarajevo. Seeing the city first-hand and learning about the siege from people who survived it changed my attitude about reading a book that describes wartime experiences. Even though much of the city has been rebuilt, Sarajevo still has many, many scars from the war. Some buildings destroyed by mortar rounds remain, crumbling and unusable. Bullet holes and damage done by shrapnel are everywhere. On the one hand, the city today seems vibrant and alive and truly delightful; on the other, everywhere you look you see evidence of the monstrosity of war and the atrocities committed in the name of fanatical nationalism and religious chauvinism. I think I would have taken many photographs of the city, had I gone there with the idea of documenting the remaining evidence of war; I would have looked at the city through different eyes had I thought about, before going there, the experiences its residents had gone through. I wish, now, I had delved into the fresh history of the city before I went. Though I knew something of the war before our visit, I know much more now. My new knowledge changed the way I see what I saw; if I had known then what I know now, I might have viewed it all differently.

I went to bed last night very early, before eight. I was up and down (only briefly each time) many times during the night. I finally got up and made coffee around 5:30; spending so much time in bed may have helped my malady but it has left my muscles and bones achy and unhappy that they have not been exercised more often. I hope the aches dissipate with a little time and another cup or two of coffee.

Yesterday, when I got up just before 1:00 p.m. (after arising, then going back to bed for several hours), we went to the bank to have our ATM cards reactivated. It seems my wife’s card had been inactivated; we assumed it had to do with her attempted use of the card in Croatia. We assumed mine, too, had been inactivated, inasmuch as I tried to use it in Croatia to get money and had been rejected. As it turns out, my wife’s card had been inactivated because it had not been used for twelve consecutive months. Mine, we learned, was still active. But we also learned that our cards cannot be used outside the U.S. without specific instructions being given to the bank as to countries we visit and the dates. We thought we’d informed the bank about our trip to Croatia; apparently, we informed our credit card companies, but not our bank. So, our ATM card would not work. Fortunately for us, though, we had another bank’s ATM card with us during our travels; it worked just fine. Different banks have different policies, it seems. Best to check on all of them before embarking on such journeys as ours.

Tonight, our neighbors (with whom we traveled to the Balkans) will treat us to dinner at a very nice local restaurant, the Blue Springs Grill. We haven’t seen them since we got home almost a week ago, but my wife has spoken to the female component of the pair and I have exchanged a few emails. They seem to think they “owe” us because we had agreed that we would pay for the limo to the airport and they would pay for the return trip; because of the airline screw-ups, they got home a day before we did, so we had to pay for our trip back home. While I appreciate their generosity, I wish they would not feel compelled to “pay us back” for our expenses for something they had no part in causing. Anyway, tonight we’ll go to dinner with them. Assuming, of course, I feel at least as well as I do now. I hope whatever it is that ails me is on its downhill slide; this business of being achy, feverish, and deeply tired is of no value to me and I want it gone.

The few regular readers of this blog might note I’ve said nothing about the latest Trump scandal. Okay, I’ll say it now: though I want him gone, I think the impeachment efforts will not result in the desired outcome. In fact, I think they will strengthen his position with his deeply stupid and self-absorbed base. I read a message yesterday, on a community-based online service, that suggested a group of rabid Republican-types have baseball caps made that have “Make HSV Great Again” imprinted on them. These people walk the streets. They drive cars. They own guns. They are a danger to society and to themselves. Let’s just hope their actions place “themselves” in danger before they destroy the society in which they wallow.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, all mixed-breed dogs pose an existential threat to humanity. Let’s say they carry a virus, readily transmittable to humans, that humans cannot survive. The fastest way to address the problem is to kill all the dogs. So, the president orders all cities and towns in which mixed-breed dogs live to be carpet-bombed. The people who wear MAGA caps would support the president’s actions; they would label anyone who objects, anyone who argues for a more targeted approach, un-American. And therewith I end my current stream-of-consciousness exercise; my fingers are now much stronger and more flexible.

I need to create a title for this post. I think I’ll call it Confessions and Confetti. No particular reason; just want a label with which to identify this latest discharge of my mental messages.

 

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The Sickness

I’ve felt a little weak and feverish and achy for several days, as if I were trying to catch a cold or the flu. This morning, after I returned from having a blood draw in connection with my annual physical scheduled for Monday, the sensations intensified. I asked my wife to feel my forehead to gauge where I might have a fever; she said I was a only a little warm. She asked whether I wanted her to get a thermometer to measure my temperature more precisely; no, I responded, that seemed like too much effort. And so I sat in my recliner, vegetating. Finally, fifteen minutes ago, I forced myself out of the chair. I suspect my next step, after finishing this brief post, will be to undress and get back in bed. But I am not sure whether that will help the way I feel; I’ve spend too much time in bed lately, causing my achy body to react negatively to being bed-ridden.

Crap! I’ve forgotten what one is supposed to do to treat a cold. My cough doesn’t seem to have gotten any worse (how could it?), but my body is rebelling against something and I want to quash the rebellion. Okay, I’ve typed as much as I can for the moment. I’ll try bed for awhile to see how that works.

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Maladjustments

I’m experiencing a struggle with the adjustment from travel to daily routine. We’ve been home since Sunday afternoon—approaching four days—and I still feel lethargic and distracted. I haven’t been able to focus on much of anything since returning home. Instead of scrutinizing what needs to be done, I’ve allowed myself to remain mostly befuddled and sluggish. It’s not that I’ve done nothing. I’ve done a lot, actually:

  • scheduled the 60K maintenance for the Subaru;
  • took Janine to Little Rock for a cardiologist visit;
  • wrote scathing email to the Slovenian airline that screwed up our return flights and mislaid our luggage;
  • switched a dental appointment from next week to this morning;
  • picked up our held mail and restarted delivery;
  • miscellaneous other things of equal disinterest.

But, really, my productivity slithers along the floor, barely overtopping bits of dust in its way. And I’ve been extremely tired since getting home, though my wife says I seemed extremely tired during most of our trip to the Balkans. And she’s probably right. I wonder what’s causing that? Maybe my persistent cough and my breathing issues contribute to my lack of energy. Well, I go in for my annual physical next Monday (with blood-work tomorrow), so perhaps I’ll find out that I need to eat more iron or steel or, perhaps, bronze. Yes, that’s it. I need to eat more bronze or brass. I’ll sneak out of the house at night in search of large brass or bronze statues and will consume them, leaving communities stunned to awaken the following day to find just remnants—with teeth marks. That’s not realistic, is it? Of course not. Why do I venture down such strange alleys? I don’t know. It’s just a psychosis, I guess.

It won’t be long before I write a long travelogue about our trip through the Balkans. Until then, I’ll attempt to overcome my lethargy. Good coffee might help. I had some coffee at a hotel in Dubrovnik that I thought was excellent—strong, full-bodied, flavorful—that a woman in our group found inadequate. She had moved to Maryland from Seattle and felt especially competent to judge coffee; the Croatian coffee was not “good” coffee, she said. I thought otherwise. Our difference of opinion was insufficient to start a global conflict, so we left it to fade away like most conflicts should.  But, wait, I’ve already started writing about my travel. I must stop. It’s not yet time. I must allow my experiences to deepen in my mind; but I mustn’t let them disappear into the fog of misty memories.

Somewhere, sometime, during the last few weeks, I decided I don’t really want a dog after all. I want a close neighbor who has a very nice dog, a dog that likes me and visits me often. Since I’m indulging my fantasy, I’d like the dog to be named Lorcan. Lorcan is a small but powerful dog with a growl that breeds fear and shivers. But he’s a sweet little guy around me. Lorcan’s sister, Sinead, spends time around me, too, but she is more reserved than Lorcan; I suppose I’d classify her as an introvert. Why the dogs were given Irish names I do not know. Though they’re both mutts, I doubt they have any Irish canine ancestry. I suppose my neighbor, Séamus O’Sullivan had his reasons for naming the beasts. Actually, I do not have a neighbor by the name of Séamus O’Sullivan but if I did I feel certain he would have two dogs as I’ve described. It’s just a sense, you know.

 

 

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On Wisdom and Travel and Self-Reflection

I do not know the originator of the following concept, but I applaud his or her wisdom in expressing it:

If you can’t intelligently argue for both sides of an issue, you don’t understand the issue well enough to argue for either.

All of us would be far better informed if we lived in accordance with that precept. Without fully understanding both sides (or, for that matter, all sides) of an issue, we cannot fully understand our own “side.” That is, absent knowledge of the foundations upon which an opinion is constructed, we cannot hold well-grounded, defensible positions. Instead, we are limited to uninformed beliefs—beliefs, by the way, that illustrate the shallowness of our thinking and the breadth of our ignorance. All right, that’s out of the way. Now I’ll move on.

I got word this morning, via email, that our bags should be delivered to our door before 2:30 p.m. today. Assuming that assertion comes to pass, my complaints that suggested our luggage was lost forever will be proven to be based on unfounded beliefs. I don’t always follow my own advice; in fact, as good as my advice can be, I sometimes cavalierly disregard it as if it were guidance from a madman. Which it is, of course, but profundity can emerge from the mouth of madmen from time to time.

I’m still processing, mentally, the adventures of our European vacation. The experiences mixed joy and darkness in almost equal measure. We bore joyous witness to beautiful landscapes and participated in festivities of societies flooded with light and life. On the other hand, we learned about and heard first-hand experiences of people who lived through the hellish war of 1992-1995. Though the war is over, the enforced peace is in many respects a dictatorship of diplomacy that robs people of the right to decide how to rule themselves. I learned, by talking to people who live in Sarajevo, that the Dayton Accord imposes upon them diplomatic solutions that prevent them from making changes in the way they are governed. The war is over, but the wounds are fresh; I suspect they will open again one day.

Listening to people who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Croatia and Montenegro, I heard the voices of people who view history from a very different perspective than the one I was taught. For example, the common view in the U.S. of  Josip Broz Tito is that he was an authoritarian dictator.  In the former Yugoslavia, virtually everyone with whom I spoke saw him as a benevolent leader who was largely responsible for building a strong, resilient society that looked after its citizens. Though he was a communist, he broke from Stalin in the late 1940s and led an economy based in market socialism. Evidence exists throughout the region of the reverence in which he was held by the population he served.

As I said, our experiences comprised mixtures of joy and darkness. The joys included experiencing lively cities like Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. Public squares, pedestrian malls, and lively street life differ radically from the automobile-owned streets of American cities. We saw and, in some cases, participated in large public festivals: for example, the hamburger festival. Literally dozens and dozens of hamburger “joints” offered their special versions of hamburgers to adoring crowds. Though the burgers we bought were utterly unimpressive, I’m confident we would have found some to our liking had we been able to spend more time at the festival.

The views of old-town Dubrovnik from the peak of Srd, a low mountain just behind the old city, were spectacular. We rode a funicular to the peak (and I did the same in Sarajevo and Ljubljana) to get us to the best viewing sites around. From high above the cities, we saw the majesty of their expansive territories.  And we walked around large, crystal-clear lakes in national parks. We rode train cars into caves where we viewed enormous stalactites and stalagmites. We had home-hosted dinners with families in Sarajevo and in the Croatian village of Karanac, where we visited with “locals” who shared with us what their day-by-day lives were like.  We drank local wine and brandy and ate food raised and prepared by the cooks. I learned that the very best extra-virgin olive oil is strong and flavorful and should never be used in cooking.

Except for the language barrier, which for me would be impossible to overcome at this stage in my life, I think I could live happily in any of the places we visited. Ultimately, the lessons of our travels around the Balkans was this: places can be beautiful, but it’s the people that make them livable. I couldn’t tolerate all the public smoking for very long, I think, but I did well enough on this trip. Only once did I ask to be moved to a different restaurant table to be away from a smoker.  I’m adaptable.

Some day, perhaps soon, I’ll write about the people we met along the way and people with whom we traveled. And I’ll continue to process my experiences during our 17-day trip through the Balkans.

I got an email this morning, suggesting that our lost luggage has been found and will be delivered to our house by 2:30 p.m. today. I hope that comes to pass. We could use some underwear; washing the same pair day after day already has become tiresome after only a few days.

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Home Again

We finally got home from our European vacation late yesterday afternoon, a day later than originally planned and absent our luggage. We hope our luggage eventually finds its way home from Slovenia, by way of Amsterdam and either Atlanta or Houston (or some other detour). I’m not counting my chickens.

No thanks to the incompetence of Adria Airways, we were able to get flights home from Amsterdam and Atlanta, after Adria’s very late departure from Ljubljana made us miss our flight in Amsterdam. Upon arrival in Amsterdam, we discovered we had been mislead (a more appropriate term might be “lied to”) by Adria staff in Ljubljana; despite assurances, we had not been booked on KLM flights to Atlanta and Little Rock. Thanks in part (perhaps) to my explosive temper and definitely thanks to a very nice young woman from Swissport, we were booked home the following day and were given a voucher for a meal and a hotel room that night.

I have plenty of things to write about our travel; some positive, some not so glowing. All of those other comments will wait. For now, we have to get back into our routine which, today, involves driving to Little Rock for a doctor’s appointment for my wife; she has several more trips to the big city this week…aarrgghh.

 

 

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Incomprehensible Adriatic Notes

Finally, a post, but it will make sense only to me. On one of the last days of our trip to the Adriatic region, I am taking a few minutes to jot some notes. One day, I will explain them.

Somun

Cevapi

kajmak. Ajar. Codymcclainbrown.com

trivrste. Hmelja. Buregdzinca

the cellist of Sarajevo

the beginner’s Sarajevo

hot hand trembles on her shoulder as he whispers, “It will all be all right.” He never saw her again.

“I didn’t cry for them to leave here. I will regret for the rest of my life not saying anything.”

bourek

No Man’s Land (film)

the bridge over river drina

mesa selimovich

“I didn’t give them my smile.”

vegeta spice

auntun Augustinetich

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Ready for a Respite

Last night, an unhinged neighbor wrote an irrational rant on the Nextdoor.com community site, complaining bitterly about Walmart’s decision to stop selling ammunition and claiming the move would cause her to never again shop in Waliberal (to use her term). She went on a long, irrational tirade that literally made no sense. I suspect she might have been drinking heavily when she wrote it, as it was, indeed, an illiterate screed.

I don’t know just what the company decided to stop selling; if I heard about it on the news, I listened only with half an ear and let it slip out the other half. But the rant sparked a response from me. I expressed my appreciation that a company is doing SOMETHING about gun violence while politicians are doing NOTHING, thanks to their servitude to the NRA.

This morning, I read more comments. Almost all of them were rants in support of my unhinged neighbor. Most of them expressed reverential support for the Second Amendment; their interpretation of the Second Amendment. And, it appears, most of them are extremely paranoid of the government’s intent to take their guns and turn citizens into slaves. Come to think of it, they may be right. With regard to the current government. But I digress.

Those comments prompt thoughts of moving away from this insane country. Of course, I may change my mind when traveling in the coming weeks. I may not. But I hope, during my absence, there are no more mass killings. I hope guns don’t capture the headlines while I’m away on vacation. And I hope to be able to have a respite from the news, from the madman in the White House, and from the bitter divide that is shaping my home country.

Wouldn’t it be glorious if the energy devoted to arguments about guns were directed, instead, toward solving the problems of low wages and poverty, health care, and war? Ach, but that would remove the irrational joy from the argument, wouldn’t it? I’m just tired of all the BS. I want to direct my attention to beauty and ingenuity and gratitude and things that improve the lot of humanity, in general. And so I shall. Off we go, on an adventure!

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Engaging with the Sun

Imagine my surprise this morning when, at 6:45 a.m., I awoke from a sound sleep. The sun had long since risen. The room was awash in light. I had been in bed for roughly eight and a quarter hours! That’s stunning. I’m never in bed that long. My smart phone, which has a close relationship with my Sleep Number bed, tells me I had six hours, forty-one minutes of restful sleep, one hour-four minutes of restless sleep, and was out of bed for twenty minutes during the night. That’s a very strange night for me. I guess it was the twenty minutes of stark wakefulness that messed with my mind and let me stay in bed for such an incredible amount of time.

What I found strange when I awoke was that I engaged with the sun. That is, I found it rather nice to open my eyes and actually see the things around me. I didn’t have to feel my way around the bed when I got up; I could actually see the dresser and the door knob. I could see my flip-flops next to the bed when I swung my legs over the side when I got up. Don’t get me wrong; this cannot be a regular thing. It was an unusual experience, but not one I’d want to have on a regular basis. I like my darkness. I like knowing I will have ample solitary time to contemplate the world and to record my thoughts about it. This morning, instead, I feel rushed to document this aberration in my sleep pattern. And I feel rushed to begin the long, arduous process of packing for our trip. But I won’t rush. Not just yet. Instead, I’ll stare at the sunlight and marvel at its ability to give me sight.

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Labor Day

Today is Labor Day, a day of tribute to workers that owes its creation to labor unions. I wonder whether the people who oppose labor unions and consider them anathema to the American spirit of bootstrap independence insist on working today? I wonder whether those same people find weekends off work, an eight-hour workday, paid vacations, and Social Security equally as offensive?

I doubt many of us spend much time contemplating the value of workers’ collectivism in years past. Workers rebelled against inhumane conditions and otherwise asserted their rights to decent treatment. We owe many of our workplace standards to labor unions. Labor unions changed over time and, in my opinion, they overstepped the bounds of reason from time to time. Those mistakes led to public reactions against them and, taking advantage of those public responses, employers taking advantage. It’s a cycle, I hope, that will eventually smooth into a straight line of respect and honor. In the meantime, I think it’s best to remember why Labor Day exists. Enough of that maudlin stuff; I have preparations to make for our adventure.

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Implied Promise

What is an implied promise? Is a strong suggestion an implied promise? (You’ll have to assume an implicit action is associated with the strong suggestion.) Is a statement of future fact an implied promise? And what, by the way, is a “statement of future fact?”

Okay, I’ll try to be more clear. A promise is not a promise unless it is a declaration of certainty or assurance on which expectation is to be based. Clear as mud.

I suspect I’ll have few, if any, opportunities to write and post for awhile, beginning with our departure for our big adventure. Our travels will make internet access a bit of a problem, for one thing; for another, my computer has again developed a tendency to cut off in mid keystroke. The same computer that did it before but that, I had hoped, the new hard drive had corrected. Not so, apparently. I don’t have time to get it repaired or replaced before our travel, so the computer is not going with me. At the moment, I am using my cheap Chromebook, attached to my big honking keyboard (because the spacebar on my Chromebook requires a hammer blow to advance the cursor by one character’s distance). I may take my iPad on our trip (or maybe not). But I doubt I’ll be able to use it much to post here. So, for anyone who reads this with any regularity, you’re due a much-deserved rest.  Whether I live up to my implied promise remains to be seen, though.

After our trip, I will write about it. During our trip, I will take copious, but illegible, notes. Upon our return, I will attempt to read said illegible notes. I will have some success. Some of the notes, though, will be thrown away because their lack of value will argue for their disposal. Yet my memory will step in and take the place of notes. And, perhaps, a few photos will jog my memory even more, allowing me to express myself in ways I could not have done without photographic evidence of my experience. Words without value, amen.

My wife and I are taking “goodies” to church today; sweets (she) and savories (me). After the pre-service feeding, we will march into the sanctuary for the “water ceremony.”  It’s a somewhat strange pagan ritual that, surprisingly, has some real-world meaning. We, though, won’t be taking water to mix with the rest; we collected no water during our travels this summer, because we did not do any traveling. That’s coming up. Two nice trips. But I doubt we’ll collect water during our journeys, either. It might spoil before the next water ceremony. 😉

Obviously, I had nothing of substance to say this morning, so I droned on as I am wont to do when I am empty-headed and wishing for meaning. I might write again tomorrow. I might.

 

 

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