Following On

My last post was a few days ago. Since then, after his twenty-six hour stay in ER, my brother underwent surgery to remove blood clots in his legs and to repair veins/arteries in his legs to ensure adequate blood flow. That surgery took place Friday, August 17. Before the surgery, the surgeon told me he wanted to keep my brother in ICU for the night following surgery so he could be closely monitored. The next morning, my brother said he had stayed in ICU because he had been given too much anaesthesia or had a bad reaction to it. No one can figure out where he got that idea, but he was convinced of it and was angry with the anesthesiologists. He also said the doctor who was to be his anesthesiologist wasn’t the one who handled it. When I had open heart surgery about fourteen years ago, I had some bizarre hallucinations…I wonder whether the same thing is going on with him? At any rate, he was moved to a private room on Saturday, so my niece and I went to see him. He was cranky and generally unpleasant, which I can understand after such major surgeries. He feels cold, so the temperature in his room was cranked up past 80 degrees, making the room stifling for others.

Yesterday, I awoke with chest congestion, a cough, and feeling general aches and pains, so I thought it best not to go visit. My niece and her husband did, though, and reported that he remained cranky and crabby. When her husband suggested it might be best to cool the stifling room, my brother snapped at him, saying something to the effect of “get your hands off that thermostat!” Her husband spent the rest of the visit in the hall, where the environment was cooler and more friendly.

After I had decided to stay away yesterday morning, I worked on a newsletter I committed to produce. During the process, my computer died. Despite multiple attempts to coax it back to life, it refused my first aid. So, despite feeling approximately lousy, I found the nearest Best Buy so I could have their Geek Squad try to repair it or, at least, recover my data and files. They estimate repair or recovery by Thursday, so I am tapping out this post with one finger, using my iPad and my niece’s WiFi.

This morning, after I finish a load of laundry, I will head up to the hospital to learn what I can about how long my brother is expected to stay in the hospital and where he will go after release: rehab unit in hospital, residential rehab facility outside hospital, or home. Unless he is much better than last time he was sent home, I will argue for a longer time in rehab, whether in or out of the hospital.

Watching nurses and nurses’ aides and the like, I have a much greater appreciation for the work they do. ICU nurses, especially, seem to have enormous responsibilities placed on their shoulders and they pull them off in a manner so cool and collected that I am in awe. Enough of one-finger typing. More later? Maybe.

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A Day in ER

Yesterday was something of a bitch for me, more so for my brother. I got a call just before 9:00 a.m. from the cardiovascular surgeon’s nurse, for whom I’d left a message the day before. She apologized that she had not returned the call earlier; she has not been at work the previous day. She suggested that, based on my comments about difficulty swallowing and minimal intake of food and fluids, he may be dehydrated, which could be serious. “Take him to the E.R.,” she said, so I did.

We arrived at the E.R. around 10:00 a.m., after a drive through Houston backstreets that seemed to be more than an hour but was probably closer to 40-45 minutes. I drove into the E.R. driveway and parked next to an ambulance. I walked inside and was told by a guard I could bring my brother inside, but would have to quickly move my car because it was in an ambulance spot (it looked to me like it was a spot designed for non-ambulance patient drop-off, but what do I know?). After a little confusion, I was given a wheelchair and wheeled my brother inside and to the registration counter to wait for intake. I ran outside, took the car to valet parking nearby, and walked back up the ambulance drive, clearly breaking the rules as I walked past a sign that said, “No pedestrians allowed.” I suspect a fast-moving ambulance could take a person out without much of a chance for the victim to move out of the way.

After the obligatory long wait intake, the staff placed my brother on a stretcher in the hallway. He asked for water; “no,” they said, not yet. There he waited for an hour until, finally, a young doctor, Steve Doucet, came and asked us many questions. He was a very, very talkative guy and my brother liked him. I liked him, too, but my impression was that he has a great deal to learn about medicine and about time management. On the one hand, I’ve never experienced a doctor who spent so much time with a patient. On the other, I wonder how many patients had to wait longer than they otherwise would because of his tendency to chit-chat.

Finally, finally, finally, they took my brother to an E.R. room, where he was hooked up to monitors, fed intravenous fluids, and otherwise poked and prodded. This process took many, many hours. During the course of this slow-motion medical play-by-play, I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. I had a fried egg for breakfast, but that wasn’t much. After my niece got there, at around 6:00, she “relieved” me so I went to the cafeteria and got a slice of pizza. Various of my brother’s doctors and their professional teams came to visit and talk. Much discussion took place between E.R. doctors and cardiovascular surgery teams about whether my brother should be admitted or not. The decision to admit him came sometime around 6:15 p.m., I think, before my pizza break. They could not move him to a regular room, though, because they were all full. He would have to wait until a room became available. So we waited more. And more. And more. Before he could go to a room, he would need a full-body CT scan, so that was done, finally, around 9:00 p.m. And we waited more. And more. And more. Finally, I decided I had to go home. I asked the nurse, Rommel, who came on duty at 7:00 p.m., to call me when my brother was assigned a room. About 9:45 I headed downstairs to find my car. Around 10, the valet brought it around and I headed home to my niece’s house, arriving about 10:30. Once at her house, I raided the refrigerator and ate a slice of her lasagna, which was the highlight of the day.

I was in a light sleep when my phone, which I’d left in the living room charging, rang. I jumped up and ran to it, but there was no message. A moment later, a text message popped up, date-stamped 12:12 AM: “Hello John, just to let you know Woods is moved to bed 40. Still in ER.”

This morning, I called the hospital about 8:30 to get a status of his location. Still in ER. The hospital obviously needs more beds. After I’ve washed a load of clothes, I’ll head back up to the hospital to find him and to find out who knows what about plans for treatment, discharge, whether he’ll stay another night, etc. The results of last night’s CT scan could well color the decision about next steps. If he can’t get sufficient fluids and nourishment by mouth, my sense is that the only option is a bit longer stay in the hospital.

As emotionally and, to a less extent physically, exhausting as yesterday was for me, it must have been far more taxing on my brother. I can’t imagine (actually, I can, from experience) the discomfort of reclining in an uncomfortable stretcher, covered with inadequate sheets and blankets, and relying on other people )who are frantically trying to meet the needs of dozens of other patients) for things as simple as a sip of water or a trip to the bathroom or the bedpan.

We shall see. I think the clothes are ready for the dryer.

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Sleepless in Houston

The first three hours of the night went well. I went to bed quite early, around 9:30, and slept soundly until 12:30. During the next two hours, I slept in fits and starts. After 2:30, I may have slept an hour or more in very short segments. My back hurt and I couldn’t get comfortable. I daydreamed, then slipped into a dream once or twice between being wide-awake. The off and on sleep slivers stopped around 4:15. From that point on, I was awake. But I didn’t want to get up for fear of waking my brother down the hall, so I stayed in bed, where the pain in my back got progressively worse. Finally, just after six, I heard my niece in the kitchen, making muffins to take to her school; she had offered to help the principal feed the hungry masses of teachers by making banana muffins, so she was hard at it early.

Today will be a challenge, trying to extract information and recommendations from the medical community. We need to know how to encourage a post-surgery patient to eat. We need to know whether he should restart his diabetes medication. We need to know how to tell if a surgery wound may be becoming infected. We need to ask about post-surgical incontinence and whether it’s natural and, whether it is or not, how to address it. So many questions.

The high temperature today is expected to reach 96 in Houston. There should  be a law.

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Caregiving

During the last few days, I’ve learned how very much energy an extensive and intrusive surgery can drain from a person. And I’m discovering that the remarkably difficult road to recovery presents its own challenges. I am providing post operative support to a man whose scar begins just below his sternum and snakes down in a more-or-less straight line for 13-inches. He is worn out. With barely enough energy to pull himself to a standing position on his walker and move slowly for a short distance from one place in the house to another, he reaches his destination winded and needing to sit down.

His surgery, for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, took roughly seven hours from the time he was wheeled into the operating room until the time he was taken to cardiac ICU.  Then, twenty minutes later, his vitals revealed that something was badly amiss and in need of urgent attention. So, he was wheeled back into the E.R. The surgical staples were removed, he was opened up again, and the doctors worked to find the source of serious internal bleeding. After several units of blood were pumped into him and the source of the problem was identified (his spleen was removed during the surgery and the stitches to close the wound had failed when his blood pressure spiked), the surgeons corrected the problem and “stabilized” him. The entire process took several additional hours.

Four days later, the hospital moved him from ICU to a private room. Finally, he was allowed to eat, but only “soft” food. But he wasn’t hungry and couldn’t eat much. Six days later, after eating very little at every meal (so much so that the nurses and dietetic staff expressed concern and said, “we can’t get him to eat, what should we do?”), he was moved to the rehabilitation unit. There, he was given various therapies but, still, he would eat very little food. The staff could not seem to make him eat; his family was unsuccessful either. This went on for a week. He was released from the rehabilitation unit to go home (to his daughter’s house) seven days later.

For two days now, he has tried to walk a little every few hours. And he has tried to eat. But he has a hard time swallowing. His already low energy from the operation is curbed even more by a lack of fuel; he’s eaten so little since coming home that it’s scary. And it’s not because he won’t. It’s because it’s so hard to swallow. I’ve decided it is unwise to release a patient right before or in the midst of a weekend. There’s nowhere to go for answers from people who know anything about the patient.

Tomorrow, we call an outpatient rehabilitation unit to arrange for ongoing therapy. And we ask questions of everyone we can. We inquire as to why his discharge papers that addressed which medications to continue, which to discontinue, and which to start do not mention his diabetes medication. We will ask about the difficulty swallowing and what can and should be done.

For my own record, here’s a calendar of his most recent interaction with the hospital and discharge. He was in the same hospital a week earlier for the diagnosis; he stayed several days then, too. What a taxing series of experiences. And it’s taxing on the caregivers, though not nearly as taxing as it is for the person receiving the care.

July 24: Tuesday, early morning surgery and late afternoon ICU
July 28: Saturday, late afternoon, out of ICU in private room
August 3: Friday, evening move to rehabilitation unit
August 10, Friday afternoon, released from hospital

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Last Minute Road Trip

I awoke early this morning, finished packing my car (except for the several things, including my cell phone charger, I left on the kitchen counter, and drove 425 miles.  I write these few words from Houston. The trip was planned, but not for today. My brother was supposed to be released from the hospital on Saturday. I learned late yesterday afternoon that the plan changed and he would be released today. So, I needed to hurry down so I could give him a ride to my niece’s house. I got to Houston around 2:40 p.m. I left Hot Springs Village at 6:40 p.m. So, it was an eight-hour trip. Two pee-stops, one of which included a purchase of lunch (a bag of Ruffles and a bottle of water).  Not a bad time.

After we got home, my nephew-in-law went to get food from Teotehuacan. I gave him $40 for the meal (he bought last time). He came back with a feast. My brother opted to sleep instead of eat, which worries me; he is as thin as a rail and has no appetite.  We’ll deal with that as we can. I’m beat. But I’m glad I made the trip.

Too tired to write more.

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The Definition of Superficiality Doesn’t Involve Food

I mused, last evening, about the enjoyment I get out of taking pictures of my food. Maybe it’s a sickness. Or it might be an artist’s engagement with the manner in which the fruits of the Earth sustains him. Or simply a quirk. According to Oxford’s online dictionary, the pronunciation and definition of quirk are as follows—”/kwəːk/: A peculiar aspect of a person’s character or behaviour.” A subset of that definition reads: “A strange chance occurrence.” I’ll accept the definitions and the British spelling of behavior in the first definition, but I’m afraid I can’t live with the pronunciation, thought it is no doubt proper for someone with a British accent. Americans, though, pronounce the word kwurk. And, despite my embarrassment to say it lately thanks to a mindless minority of the population who managed to get an arrogant narcissist with totalitarian tendencies in the White House, I am an American. But this has little to do with photographs of food, I’m afraid, so I’ll just cut off this conversation with myself and return to the subject at hand.

 

Last night, before I mused about random things including taking pictures of my food, I actually took a picture of the meal my wife made, a chicken breast dressed with a marvelous blueberry sauce she made from fresh blueberries. Oh, and we had steamed broccoli and a green salad. I failed to capture the salad, but I did get a shot of the dinner plate.

The photo doesn’t do justice to that fine meal. I should know better than to rely on my Android phone’s camera to take pictures, but I’m too lazy to take the time and trouble of pulling out my “real” camera. So I make do with tools designed to meet the needs of slothful people.

This morning, I got up early (around 4:30, early even for me lately) and got to work. I mashed an avocado for avocado toast (which we haven’t yet had—that will be for lunch), hard-boiled a bunch of eggs, and found a recipe for something I’ve wanted to try for years but just hadn’t gotten around to it: cloud eggs. Cloud eggs are made by separating the whites of two (for us) eggs from the the yolks and whipping the whites until stiff peaks form. Then, divide the foamy whites into equal-sized globs on a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet. Make an indentation large enough to hold a yolk in each glob. The globs cook for about six minutes until they begin to brown. You then slip the yolks into the indentations and cook the eggs another four or five minutes. The results are attractive (in my view) but the dish has a moderately quirky (see what I did there?) texture. Pictured here is my egg (decorated with chives harvested fresh this morning from the chive orchard outside my back door), alongside a slice of Canadian bacon, three cherries, and two halves of a large radish.

On an entirely different subject, I think it’s been more than two years since I adjusted my Facebook profile to show the pronunciation of my name as ku-LIP-SOH NEE-blud. The fact that no one has ever mentioned it to me reveals the superficial nature of Facebook interactions. Facebook portrays itself as creator of close-knit communities. In fact, though, I think it’s rather rare for people to actually look at a person’s complete profile. That thought caused me to stop writing and take a look at several Facebook friends’ (people I’ve never met in person) profiles to see whether I find anything new or unusual. And I did. Quite a lot, in fact. Oddly, though, none of the small sample I looked at revealed how to pronounce their names. The fact that I didn’t already know that illustrates the degree to which I take the time (or don’t) to learn what people have opted to reveal about themselves or to keep private.

Earlier this morning, for no particular reason, I wondered whether a tract of land filled with avocado trees must be called an orchard or whether it’s permissible to call it an avocado forest. “Permissible” isn’t the right word; I suppose it should be “correct” or “advisable” or something like that. Anyway, I wondered. And I discovered plenty of references to avocado forests, but most were tongue-in-cheek. But I did find a professional paper included in the proceedings of the 1995 World Avocado Congress that referred to avocado forests in a not-so-positive way. The paper, presented by Gray Martin and Guy Witney, Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, puts it this way: “Currently many of the groves in California look and act like avocado forests. As trees begin to crowd the loss of the canopy reduces not only production surface area but reduces the trees ability to be productive (Figure 1.).” Based on my understanding of this reference and other statements made in the paper, I concluded that forests are natural and not managed, whereas managers of trees in orchards (or, to use their terminology, groves) prune and otherwise manage the stock to maximize production. Yet that suggestion doesn’t quite explain why we don’t hear of pine orchards, despite the fact that large tracts of pine trees are subject to intense management by timber companies. Further, the term “forestry management” also argues against the idea that forests are natural and not managed. So, for the time being, I will continue to wonder. And I’ll ponder whether I might one day be the owner of a tomato ranch. That leads to questioning whether “cattle ranch” and “cattle farm” are both appropriate and whether one can operate a “dairy ranch” or whether one must forever be saddled with the term “dairy farm.”

I’ve emptied all the excess pieces of mindless drivel that I can dislodge from my brain, for now, so I’ll post this and hope it doesn’t result in a 72-hour confinement on a mental health hold. 😉

 

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Musings on a Wednesday Evening

I got word late this afternoon that my brother will be released from the hospital on Saturday. So, I’ll head down to welcome him to my niece’s home; I should arrive by late afternoon. There’s no time-frame for my visit. I’ll remain there as long as he needs someone to help him recuperate from his lengthy surgery and subsequent hospital stay. My niece and her husband both work (she just started a new job), so they can’t get away. I’m retired and untethered to inescapable responsibilities, so I’m capable of flying the coop with little notice for as long as necessary.

My responsibilities are as yet unknown, but to the extent I can, I’d like to spend some of my time while away from home doing something I’ve not allowed myself time to do here: writing and painting. I’m anxious to give my painting skills (that’s not a legitimate word to describe my brush work) an opportunity to develop. And I really need to focus some attention on pulling my hundreds of stories into a cohesive whole, which will require considerable writing and editing. Will I achieve these objectives? Time will tell. Perhaps I should start by acknowledging they are not objectives. They are merely wishes, desires that can readily take a back seat to responsibilities.

I’ll miss my wife while I’m away. She will miss me, too, but I suspect my absence will give her an opportunity to unwind that’s simply unavailable when I’m home and perpetually “wired.” Maybe I should practice meditation while I’m away, as a present to her upon my return. She’ll be stunned if I return home as the mellow man she deserves. I’ll be stunned, too. And delighted beyond words. I wonder whether pills of the legal variety prescribed by licensed physicians might be more effective and more controllable than meditation. Medication in lieu of meditation. That sounds fundamentally wrong, but closer to the way the world, at least the Western world, seems to be working.

I went to a Medicare counselor today to learn what I could about my Medicare options. The woman was nice and shared a few bits and pieces that I’ll find useful as I do my research, but I had hoped and expected to get more advice. Instead, I was directed to many places online and in hard copy that will fill my head with so much data that decisions will be based more on relieving the pain of choices than on rational thought. I dare not let that happen. A single choice in Medicare can follow you to the grave. Scary stuff. But necessary stuff.

People laugh at others, like me, who take pictures of their food. I equate my habit of photographing my food with others’ habits of photographing their children or grandchildren. You record that which is important to you. Because I have no chirren and therefore no grandchirren, I must photograph something important to me. So, it’s food and beer and places of interest. I read on Chuck’s blog post that he (and it’s true of most of us, I think) hasn’t taken many photos of places he’s lived, environments in which  he’s operated, or streets where he’s traveled over the years. His comments struck a chord with me. I haven’t either. And so big chucks of my life are available to me only through very poor and getting worse memory. Pictures of houses where I grew up are missing from my limited collection. Photos of cars I’ve owned seem to have gone the way of clothes I wore as a child; they’ve simply disappeared, with no recollection in my mind of what happened to them nor any trace of their demise. But, by God, I have photos of food I’ve made of which I’m mightily proud. And meals my wife has cooked. And occasional restaurant masterpieces. Because, well, significant accomplishments of whatever form deserve recognition. They deserve to be memorialized. They merit acknowledgement. My 1971 Ford Pinto doesn’t really merit much, so the relative (or perhaps absolute?) paucity of photos of the deathtrap doesn’t bother me. I wish, though, I had a photo of the shed behind my parents’ house that I helped Dad build. Ach. Well, unfulfilled past wishes are simply failures looking for forgiveness. You can quote me on that. It sounds prophetic, doesn’t it? I mean, seriously, “Unfulfilled wishes are simply failures looking for forgiveness.” It belongs on a motivation poster. Hmm. Maybe motivation isn’t the right word. Disregarding that, the phrase makes very little sense. But it has potential. I can imagine it carved in stone on the side of a mountain. Or, perhaps, melted into the side of a dying glacier with a monstrous blowtorch. Get a photo of it, would you, before it disappears?

Am I rambling? Why, yes, I believe I am. And for some reason a line from a Paul Simon lyric from the song, America, is in my mind today (as it often is) and won’t leave me alone: “Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” I don’t know Kathy, and I guess it doesn’t matter. She wasn’t listening.

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Wisdom

Wisdom grows not from the tender love of nurturing care,
but from the abject neglect and brutal abandonment spun
on life’s loom from frayed spiritual kudzu that tries to
choke and strangle resolve.

Wisdom struggles upward from the darkest depths of the soul,
breaking through impenetrable layers of heartache and failure
toward the open skies of an open mind ready to accept answers
in the absence of questions.

Wisdom sheds arrogance and conceit during its journey from
certainty, through hesitation and ambiguity, toward doubt and
the knowledge that enlightenment is temporary and all answers
are clothed in fallacies.

Wisdom understands enough to comprehend that we know nothing,
even as we build temples to celebrate the knowledge we one day will
cast aside when we find what we will believe are truths hidden
beneath layers of dogma.

Wisdom is vapor—an imaginary mist arising from tears falling on
white-hot convictions that decay into doubts when confronted
with arguments and evidence, both credible and absurd—gossamer
smoke in a hazy sky.

Wisdom is experience adjusted for failure and tempered by success,
an age-worn garment woven from the tattered remains of youth and
the anticipatory shrouds of that inescapable conclusion to
which all of us come.

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The Menu

Join me?

Food Item Paired with
Arancini: Risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and parmesan and peas, dusted with flour, dipped in beaten egg, dredged in panko crumbs, then fried Pinot grigio
Patata Bombas: Mashed potato balls stuffed with spiced minced beef, dipped in beaten egg, dusted with bread crumbs, then fried Dry sherry
Olives in Martini Jelly : Stuffed olives molded in neutral gelatin flavored with Martini & Rossi dry vermouth Gin martini
Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Manchego and Romesco Sauce:  Just what it said. Spanish Rioja (80% tempranillo, 20% garnacha)
Fig, Serrano Ham, and Goat Cheese Bruscheta:  Just what it said. Dry sherry
White Fish “Cooked” in Vinegar: tilapia chunks soaked in water, then in vinegar for 24 hours, served with bread Sangria
Roasted Beet & Orange Marmalade with Goat Cheese: House-recipe Sauvignon Blanc
Gazpacho Shooters: Gazpacho with marinated cucumber ribbbons Iced Vodka
Spanish Chorizo Poached in Red Wine: Just what is said. Iced Tea
Roasted Beet Hummus with Crudites: Sparkling Water
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Special

Today was special, not because it was filled with activities in which we rarely have the opportunity to be involved but because we enjoyed what was available. After we visited several stores in search of fennel, we finally found it at the Kroger on Airport. It wasn’t visible in the vegetable section, so we asked Jesus, a young guy whose badge said he was a member of the produce section team. He led us to the place it should have been, but the bin was empty. He asked us to wait and then ran back to see if he had some on back.  A few minutes later he came back, carrying a box on his shoulder. He opened it up and, voila, fennel. But it was in pretty sad shape. My wife said she was most interested in the bulbs, not the fronds or leaves. He then offered to take it to the back, cut off the leaves, and put the bulbs in a “discount dollar bag” for us, which he proceeded to do. Outstanding customer service! (When we got home, I sent an email to Kroger, asking the company to acknowledge his superior service and give him a hefty raise.)

But that wasn’t the only thing we enjoyed that made today special. On the way home, I half-joked to my wife that we might stop at SQZBX Pizza for a draft beer. She suggested, instead, that we visit Core Brewing’s new(ish) pub on Central. So we did. She had no interest in going there. She offered it only because I’d talked about it for a month or more. So we did. I tried two of their draft beers and chatted with the bartender. She tolerated the experience and played Words with Friends.

Both experiences today were magical in a sense. I’m glad we found the fennel, because my wife wants to try two recipes that call for it (fennel is, by the way, a Spring vegetable!). But I’m delighted that my wife suggested we stop at Core; she’s the love of my life!

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Sleeping Hallucinations

In a dream early this morning I experienced a place I’ve never been but which consisted of elements of various places I’ve either lived or been. A wall of glass doors and windows at the back of the house, much like my current home, looked out over a large back yard that sloped steeply away from the house. An enormous fig tree blocked the view to the left. At the back of the yard, a tall wood fence topped with two or three feet of chain link fence marked the edge of the property. Beyond the fence, a mass of dense underbrush stretched as far as the eye could see. I was standing at one of the windows when I saw a large cat, a tiger I think, peer over through the chain links. Another big cat, a leopard, nudged the tiger aside and peered over. Next, a bobcat poked its head over the fence. The bobcat was much larger than real bobcats. It was only slightly smaller than the other two cats. I called Janine to come look, but as soon as she came through the door (which I somehow knew led to the garage), the cats slipped out of sight. I pointed to where they had been and she stared intently at the spot. In an instant, the huge fig tree began shaking violently. As we wondered what could be causing such shaking, an enormous black bear climbed down from the tree and ran toward the back fence. As it ran, though, it became apparent to both of us that it was not  a bear. It was a gigantic skunk, all black with no white stripe. Suddenly, I wondered where the dogs were. No sooner had the question come to my mind than I saw both of them at the back door, wagging their tails wildly as torrential rain drenched them. Worried that the creatures outside the house might hurt them, I hurried to open the door between the garage and the back yard. I opened the top of the Dutch door and the dogs jumped up on the ledge of the lower part of the door and climbed over into the garage. And then the doorbell rang. I think it was about then I woke up.

I don’t know the last time I saw a Dutch door. I bet it must have been sometime in my childhood. I’ve not had a dog since childhood. And I am relatively sure I’ve not seen large wild cats climbing around my back yard since…forever. But something about the place (aside from a wall of mostly glass) suggested placed I’ve known. And I think, in the dream, I was conscious that the house may have been in Africa, a place I’ve never been. Odd stuff. And the bear-turned-skunk was an odd experience unlike any I’ve had, but the way the bear shimmied down the huge fig tree looked like I think a bear would look shimmying down a fig tree. I’ve probably seen enough videos of bears coming out of trees that my recollections of those scenes flowed into my dream.

Oh, there was more to the dream, but I just don’t recall what else. I just know there was more, but my mind just won’t allow it to come to the surface. A psycho-surgery procedure might unearth the rest of the dream, but I’m a little hesitant to go asking for such a procedure lest the surgeons either: 1) accommodate my request; or 2) have me involuntarily committed for making it. Early this morning, after I awoke from the dream, I did a bit of research on psycho-surgery, simply because the term popped into my head out of nowhere. I wonder if there’s a connection with my dream? Who knows?

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Thoughts Late in the Day

The smiling faces of friends and acquaintances can hide haunting secrets, painful memories, and dark experiences that will never see the light of day. We’re like icebergs, revealing only a fraction of our selves and keeping the bulk of what we think and who we are hidden beneath a thick wall of privacy. We don’t even know that we’re hiding our true selves; we only know that the public face isn’t really who we are. And when we think about what we’re hiding from the world, we realize we’re hiding just as much from ourselves. Who are we, in fact? Are we simply responses to the stimuli around us, or do we exist separate from our environment? Is the happy-go-lucky guy in the mirror just a manufactured image, cultivated by the people with whom he interacts? Is he real, at his core, or did he come into being as an expression of the people with whom he’s spent time and the places where he’s lived? Some days, I feel like I don’t know who I am. Is there a real me buried beneath the layer upon layer of trained responses? Had I lived without the input of my environment, would I be a different person, a different being? I think I would. I think I would be more introspective (if that’s possible), less concerned with what others think of me, and more capable of focused attention. The older I get in this body, the less I’m able to stay focused. My mind spins like a top on a jagged, broken tabletop. Enough of this.

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Appropriation?

I read a lot about cultural appropriation. And I get it. But, like so many other issues that tend to create friction where none previously existed, a burr seems to have grown into a full-fledged mesquite covered in monstrous thorns. I understand the indignation that arises when people “appropriate” an element of another culture and claim it as their own. But I do not understand the rage that accompanies “appropriation” when full credit is given to its source. Does my appreciation for and enjoyment of Mexican food count at cultural appropriation? What if I modify “original” recipes to better suit my personal tastes? Must I ask someone for permission? And how about hair styles? I’ve seen considerable anger over dreadlocks on white people, along with assertions that the hair style is a statement by black people asserting their African ancestry. Perhaps adoption of dreadlocks in Rastafarian culture counts as a recent claim to the style, but research suggests the style originated in India or Egypt long, long ago. So, if someone appropriates the style, who is the party injured by the appropriation? And, frankly, why does it matter that people outside the originators’ culture appreciate and adopt a hair style or food preference or anything else?

I can think of very few culture-specific things that are truly unique to the culture. Historical contributions outside our realm of experience color all aspects of our lives. I, for one, appreciate and am happy to acknowledge the contributions of other cultures to my enjoyment of the one in which I live. Barbecue’s history is not uniquely WASP, but should I not use my grill because that method of cooking did not originate in my culture?

My reading of the outrage over cultural appropriation is this: it’s a symptom of a deeper anger at one culture’s dismissal of the contributions of another. Frankly, at that level, I understand and can appreciate the anger. But I believe that anger could just as readily be channeled in another emotion, joy, over the fact that an aspect of one’s culture is so appreciated that people outside that culture adopt it. As long as it’s not claimed as one’s own (as in, I created this), I think cultural “appropriation” is, in fact, an expression of deep appreciation.

Now, that’s off my chest. Of course, if someone reads this and thinks I’m dead wrong, I’d like to hear how I’ve missed the mark.

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Connections

Unexpectations. That’s what I call them. Experiences that one realizes will take place without any prior planning. You know they’re coming, but you don’t know why. And you didn’t know to expect them. I discovered, quite unexpectedly, that a woman I’ve met only once in the real world is visiting Hot Springs this weekend, along with her partner (what else does one call a male attachment one assumes is a lover…a lover?). Her daughter, I gather, is here, either as a resident or as a prospective resident. Here, being Hot Springs. Not the Village. The Village is a lifetime and 22 miles away. 

Anyway, I learned of the trip and suggested we get together. At the moment, we’re talking dinner with a huge entourage at McClard’s. I don’t know about that. I’d prefer SQZBX for pizza, but I nobody asked me. And McClard’s is by far better known for a long, long time. We’ll see. Isn’t it odd that someone from a lifetime ago can pop into the periphery of one’s life and suddenly seem important? I hope I can see Paula and her brood. If not, at least I’ll know I tried. As if that matters. Sometimes attempted connections make no difference. I once connected with someone else, a lifetime ago, and have never connected again, at least not in the same way. There’s still time, I guess. Or maybe not. 

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Partly Taken Road Trip Recap

I decided this morning I should make a record of our recent trip to Texas and back, if for no other reason than to jog my memory at some point in the future when I ask, “What year did we make that trip to Houston and Corpus Christi?”

We had long planned to drive to Corpus Christi to attend a July 26 launch party for an anthology of authors with connections to Corpus Christi. Our itinerary, which was to be extremely flexible, was to include a stop at my brother’s house fifteen mile outside of Huntsville and a visit with my niece in Houston. From there, we would go to Corpus Christi and after a couple of days would meander back northward, possibly through Central Texas and to Dallas, where we’d stay a day or two with friends.

Those plans changed when my brother was rushed to the hospital in Huntsville, then transferred to Methodist Hospital in Houston for treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. After a couple of days in the hospital, they sent him home for a few days until he could be scheduled for surgery on Tuesday, July 24.

We decided to drive to Houston on July 24. We arrived at the hospital around four o’clock in the afternoon, where we met my niece in the cardiac surgery family waiting room. She told us that his surgery had been completed around 2:30 and he had been taken to the cardiac ICU, but not long afterward he had been taken back into surgery due to internal bleeding. We waited and waited and waited with only one or two “updates” that indicated he was still in surgery and that the doctors were trying to stabilize him. Finally, around 8:30 (I think), the surgeon came out to give us an update. During the initial surgery, he had removed my brother’s spleen because it was in the way of the surgery required to repair the aneurysm.  It had become apparent during my brother’s short stay in the cardiac ICU that something was terribly wrong, so he was taken back into surgery. The doctors opened him up again and searched for the source of the internal bleeding, while giving him transfusions of more blood.

The sutures used to close the wound had apparently failed when my brother’s blood pressure spiked. After they found the source, the surgical team closed the wound and monitored my brother’s status for quite some time. The second surgical intervention lasted several hours, perhaps even longer than the first one. The doctor said my brother had been stabilized and would be taken to ICU again shortly. Soon, another staff member came out and told us we should be able to go to ICU in fifteen minutes or so. That came and went and we decided it was time to go in, but when we entered, we learned it would be another ten minutes. Finally, we were allowed to go in. My brother was in a section of the ICU that had around fix or seven beds. He was hooked up to all manner of tubes and wires and an incredibly array of medical apparatus. He was marginally aware we were there, but he went in and out. The anesthesia was still in control of his consciousness. Finally, we left for the night. My niece stopped on the way home and bought an assortment of wonderful tacos from a place called El Rey.

The next morning, we went in to see my brother again. He was still marginally conscious and still had a breathing tube in, so he could not talk, but he was aware of our presence and squeezed our hands when we squeezed his. We left for Corpus Christi after noon and got as far as El Campo before we stopped for lunch at Mikeska’s Bar-B-Q. Despite the signs claiming the place had BBQ that was famous all over Texas, we thought the food was on the very low end of mediocre, lousy enough that we’ll make a point to never again stop at any place claiming to serve BBQ under the Mikeska name.

We got to Corpus Christi around 4:30, maybe a bit earlier, and checked in to our motel, which is in an industrial area a good fifteen minutes from downtown. We decided to go exploring, so we drove up Leopard Street to Padre Island Drive and, from there, to a shopping area where South Padre Island Drive intersects with South Staples Street. We had a target in mind: my wife brought two sacks full of books that she had planned to sell at Half-Price Books in Houston, but she learned online that there was one in Corpus, so she decided that was the place to go. We did. She sold half of her books for $10.50 and left the rest of them, which the company would not buy, to be given away to libraries or schools or other such place in need of books. From there, we slid over to a Chinese restaurant called Taiwan for dinner. I had an acceptable meal of Chinese food and my wife had a Filipino dish called Pinakbet. She liked it. I thought it was fine, too.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the motel, then went out wandering. We cruised Ocean Drive, then headed to Padre Island. For lunch, we headed downtown, where we ate at Water Street Oyster Bar. I liked whatever it was I ate, but I don’t recall just what I ordered.

After a bit of a rest back at the motel, we headed out to Hogemeyer’s Barbecue Barn, the site of the launch party. We had assumed that the light hors d’ouevres and refreshments would reflect the type of restaurant where the event was held, but we discovered that the owners of the restaurant simply let the event organizer use the space. The organizers brought in some appetizers including sandwiches and hummus. Interesting mix.  We met a few people, then sat down to nibble. Soon, the readings began. The organizer announced that the readings would be in alphabetical order, but that soon proved not to be the case. I wanted to read, but did not know the plan, so I just sat and listened as a number of people, apparently selected by the organizer in advance, read their pieces. Finally, I motioned that I’d like to read. So I did. But I only had three minutes, so I couldn’t even begin to read the entire story. I decided to start in mid-story, possibly making it to the end; I didn’t. I was alerted that time’s up before I finished. Oh, well.  The evening was soured a bit when I opened the anthology to see the editor’s comments under the heading “Forward.”

The event ended by eight o’clock and I was still hungry. We stopped at a convenience store and I bought a bag of chips and a six-pack of beer to top off the night.

We left for Houston the next morning, Friday, expecting to go to my niece’s house and then to the hospital. As we were making our way there, she called and asked if we’d be willing to meet her and her husband at their favorite Mexican place, Teotihuacan.  Well of course! So we made our way there, using our GPS and good sense to guide us. I had intended to buy lunch, but Ignacio beat me to the punch as he was heading out the door to go back to work.

We then went in to see my brother, who was still in ICU. He was more aware and alert than he had been a couple of days earlier, but still in a fog. It was a bit difficult to know when he was fully conscious of what was going on around him and when he was hallucinating or confusing dreams with reality. But we communicated. By then, his breathing tube had been removed, so he could speak, but his voice was very weak and feeble. Clearly, though, he wanted out of ICU. He hated the noise and the constant activity around him and the other patients, but he knew he had to stay until he was well enough to be moved to a private room. On Saturday afternoon, July 28, he got into his room. He was quite happy to be out of ICU, though he was still very weak. I told him I would go back to Houston when he gets out of the hospital and will stay with him at his daughter’s house until he is able to get by without my help.

We hit the road moderately early the next morning, reaching Texarkana around 1:00 p.m., when very strong thunderstorms whipped through the area. We couldn’t see well enough to keep driving, so we pulled into a gas station/convenience store and bought some fried chicken and a jalapeño for lunch (to accompany the Scoops version of Fritos and jalapeño bean dip we’d bought along the way). After the rain slacked off a bit, we hit the road again and make it home about three hours later.

Since we’ve been home, my niece has been sending us updates on my brother’s progress. At this stage, we have no idea when he might be released from the hospital. The medical team is trying to get his insurance company to authorize time in in-patient rehab, but we don’t know the status as of yet. Last night, when I called my brother, he said he expected to be in the hospital for another week or two, followed by in-patient rehab, but that may or may not be based on good information. He’s still not completely free of having fuzzy thoughts and confusion; last night he said he had been on the phone with someone trying to sell him insurance when I called earlier and got a busy signal. Somehow, I think it’s unlikely that an insurance salesman called his hospital room to try to sell insurance. But there you go. That’s the story as it stands.

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Stunned and Empty

I learned yesterday of a young man’s death. He made the irrevocable choice to end his life by leaping to his death. I can’t help but think he might not have done it if he’d waited just one more minute. Perhaps in that one minute he would have realized the darkness, as bad as it must have been, would have been temporary. But once he flung himself off the building, his decision was irreversible. The darkness overcame his will to live. His pain overwhelmed his hope. I will never know what went through his mind in the weeks or days or hours before he made that horrible decision. I knew him only as a passing acquaintance, but I feel a sense of loss, nonetheless. I’m stunned by the news and I feel empty, knowing that I didn’t realize that, beyond his outward appearance, he was dealing with a life or death struggle.

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Of Words and Weather and Automotive Maturation

Uncharacteristically cool temperatures for late July and early August give me hope. Soul-crushing hot weather tends to sear despair into my brain, but the scar heals quickly when evening and early morning temperatures dip into the sixties. Were it not for the encapsulated joints in the middle toes of both feet, I might go walking this morning. Actually, I’m not sure encapsulated joints cause the pain in my feet, despite the podiatrist’s assertion. I may have brought on the symptoms by stooping on my haunches to scrape paint off the deck. This paragraph has drifted from weather and its emotional consequences to the causes of physical pain to home maintenance. I don’t recall ever having crafted a paragraph that accomplishes so much of so little value in such limited space. And the idea that I “crafted” a paragraph attaches far more substance to my creative efforts than they deserve. I didn’t craft a damn thing. The words fell from my fingers like shards of glass from a window shattered by a baseball. Well, maybe my words aren’t quite as chaotic as that, but any suggestion they were, or are, painstakingly sculpted out of letters and syllables mined from a word-quarry rich in deep thought and powerful ideas is ludicrous.

Let’s move on, shall we, to topics more deserving of a limited supply of syllables? The idea that one has a finite number of words or syllables or sentences available to be spoken or written or thought in one’s lifetime is interesting. To me, anyway. The thought reminds me of a television program I watched recently on the PBS Create channel. The program was about the cuisine of Japan and the host spoke of an experience wherein he was with a Japanese chef as they talked about selecting a restaurant to enjoy their next meal. The program host suggested a restaurant that, I gather, was the quality-equivalent of a chain steakhouse in the U.S. His Japanese counterpart said something like, “There is a finite number of meals you will eat in your lifetime. Are you sure you want to spend one of them dining in a place like that?” Granted, the number of words or syllables or sentences one uses in one’s lifetime probably is several orders of magnitude greater than the number of meals one eats, but the concept still applies. Should we pay closer attention to the language we spread in our wake, knowing that it reflects to some degree the quality of the thoughts we allow to form in our brains? Just a thought. Heh.

Yesterday, while I was interviewing people for background material for the book about the history of Hot Springs Village, my wife took the Camry in for an oil change and tire rotation. The mechanic told her the car needs a rear brake job and a brake fluid flush and refill. I checked our records; sure enough, it has been a very long time since we had any work done on the rear brakes (the front brake pads have been replaced twice since we moved to the Village). So, I’ll call this morning to get an appointment. I will leave the Camry with her when I drive back to Houston to help my brother during his recovery from his recent surgery. I want it to be in tip-top shape. I’ll drive the Subaru to Houston, inasmuch as I’ll need its GPS to make my way around the monstrous city. And, inasmuch as it’s a far newer car (by about fourteen years), it ought to be more highway-worthy. Since we got the Subaru, I’ve neglected being as aware of the Camry’s maintenance as I should have been. But the car is now sixteen years old, old enough to look after itself, I say. If it’s old enough to get a driver’s license, it’s old enough to arrange its own oil change, brake jobs, and the like. And it ought to get a job and pay for its own gas, by God!

I started this post not long after I awoke this morning, but got sidetracked about the time I started blathering on about the Camry taking responsibility for itself, given that it’s now a mature car. By the time the 2020 elections come around, it will be old enough to vote. And I think I’ve spoken enough about voting, in its presence, that I know how it will vote. The vehicle, its silver paint job and muted appearance looking as conservative as they come, but it’s a Democratic Socialist through and through.  Okay, this diatribe has gone on far longer than necessary or acceptable. I’ll call it a morning and get on with my responsibilities. Next up, more interviews of long-time residents of HSV. The joys of retirement.

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A Long and Winding Road Through Technological Delirium

During our time in Houston last week and weekend, I had several wonderful conversations with my niece, many of which led me to ideas that would make great stories. Naturally, my memory of said conversations is only of the “this would make a great story” moments, not the actual stories themselves. My failure to remember perfectly good story lines upsets me, not so much because I’ve lost a story concept, but because I seem to be losing my mind memory.

The solution, I’ve decided, is to have a video camera permanently installed in my forehead. But, because I’m generally a practical guy, I’ll have to figure out a few things first. Number one, because the device will have to run on batteries (who wants one’s movements to be limited by the length of a power cord?), I’ll have to figure out how to easily change them out. And, because a large video camera protruding from one’s forehead would startle and upset some people, I’ll have to install a very small camera, something in miniature that’s easily hidden by make-up or hair carefully positioned to cover the thing. The on-off button must be hidden, too, as must the button to record, zoom in and out, etc. The installation of this permanent device will require considerable time and talent, not to mention money, two of the three of which are sorely lacking and the third (that is, the first) is an unknown quantity. I suppose I need to consider how I will transfer files from the device to my computer for playback and permanent storage, as well.

You’d think the practicalities I’ve already addressed would be all I’ll need to consider, wouldn’t you? Well, there are legal issues to factor into the undertaking, as well. Some states require two-party consent to record audio and, I assume, video. Others require only one party to know of the recording. Yet others may not require any of the parties being recorded to know it. So, I’ll have to install a computer with a real-time link to state statutes so that, as they change, the device will be updated accordingly. Naturally, because it would be impractical to physically update the device with the legalities of recording based on knowing whether I’m in one state or the other, the computer must include a global positioning satellite (GPS) link so there’s no question which state I’m in (and to ensure the correct links to state statutes).

The device must have some method of notifying me whether recordings are being made and whether I must notify others. I envision the projection of a holographic image that only I can see, informing me of the laws governing recordings, based on my location as calculated by the GPS. If I’m in a one-party state, the hologram might read, in green text, “One-party state. You’re good to go.” If I’m in a two-party state, the hologram could read, in red text, “Two-party state. Inform others of  recording.” If that latter message flashed before my eyes, another message could follow—something like this that I could read aloud: “You’re not going to believe this, but I have a video camera implanted in my forehead and I’m going to record our interactions, okay?” My guess is that the other party or parties would assume a mental meltdown had caused those words to spill from my mouth and would readily agree. Or, if not, I’d just insist. “All I need to do is to inform you. As far as I know, there’s no requirement for consent, only for notification. So be forewarned: anything you say can and will be used to enlarge and enhance my video archives.”

It occurs to me that the cost, both financial and mental, of a permanently installed video recording device might bankrupt me, monetarily and emotionally. A less expensive and, perhaps, less intrusive way of tracking story ideas would be to write notes in the little spiral notebook I carry with me almost everywhere I go. Why I do not write these ideas down is beyond me. I do, on occasion, but more often than not I’m too much “in the moment” to interrupt the conversation by jotting notes that, in many cases, would have to be extensive.

There MUST be a solution that’s not so intrusive and costly. Aha! I have it! I simply need to hire a very small, almost invisible secretary, someone unemployed for so long that even the meager salary I could offer would seem a windfall. I would need to find someone small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. He or she would be held accountable for keeping track of where we are and for monitoring state recording statutes. And, because I’ve never bought tiny little steno pads for someone so small as to fit inside my pocket, the responsibility for purchasing those products would fall to him or her. I would, of course, pay for the cost of those work-related tools. Now that I think of it, though, writing notes that would then have to be typed seems silly. I’d need to get him a tiny little computer with a tiny little keyboard. The issue with batteries would be much like the issue with batteries for implantable video cameras. I’d have to feed this person, wouldn’t I? What does a tiny person eat? And what about eating in restaurants—would I need to bring along tiny plates and utensils? I mean, one can’t assume restaurants keep a stock of such things for people of all sizes, right? Ach. There’s so much to think about, not the least of which is the concern about why this very small person has remained unemployed for so long. Could it be that he is simply not good at being a secretary? Or was he caught embezzling from a former employer? Does his prison record have anything to do with his difficulty in finding work? There are too many variables here. I think I’ve talked myself out of hiring him. I’m sorry, fellow, to have wasted so much of your time in interviews. Good luck in your job search!

Well, that was a blind alley, wasn’t it? I think I might just pursue something that’s been right under my nose all along. All of us are under constant surveillance everywhere we go. No matter where we go, there’s a video camera keeping an eye on us. Grocery stores, department stores, even on freeways. Cameras constantly watch us. It’s 1984 on steroids, folks. And our electronic devices monitor where we are and who we’re with. How many times have you been in a restaurant when someone takes a photo of their meal and, an hour later, you notice on Facebook that you are in the background of the person’s poorly-framed food shot? That’s what I mean! Everywhere we go we’re being recorded. Maybe not all video, but we’re being watched.  Inasmuch as someone already is recording us, the trick is simply to hack into the Universal Network (some people still call it the World Wide Web or internet, but it’s become the Universal Network where all data are collected, logged, and available for the right price). The Universal Network is as solid and stable and as impenetrable as the records in the Equifax credit database, so an early teen with a Kindle Fire should be able to get it and retrieve anything I need.

Even after all I’ve written, I don’t remember the stories that triggered my “I need to remember that so I can write about it” moments. But what I’ve written may be worth another look some day to see if there’s sufficient seed and adequate soil for a story to grow from the manure I’ve spread by tapping the keyboard with my fingers. More coffee. That’s what I need, more coffee!

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Looking Out for Others

Facebook is too public for me. Though I’d like to express myself to friends and family, Facebook is, to me, the equivalent of posting a full-page ad in the newspaper. I’m more inclined to send individual letters to people I know. On the other hand, Facebook has a broader reach than my messages. If my friends and family were regular readers of this blog, I could count on it as a relatively private way of communicating with them. But it’s been years since they have regularly read my blog. Proof positive that what I write bores even my wife and my brothers and sisters. That’s more than a little painful to know, but I understand that, as a writer, the words I put down with my fingers are more for me than for anyone else. I have to believe that or I will spiral into depression. And so I believe it. This blog is not for anyone else but me. Only for me.

My wife and I got back to Hot Springs Village yesterday after a whirlwind trip to Houston and Corpus Christi. The Corpus Christi leg of the trip was to attend a book launch, an anthology of writers with a connection with Corpus Christi. I grew up there, from the time I was four or five until the time I left for college at eighteen. So the framework of who I am formed during my Corpus Christi years. But I don’t remember a lot from those years. Yet I know I am who I am because of them.   The trip to Corpus was not stress-free. My brother, who’s seventy-seven years old, underwent surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm about the same time. It was nerve-shattering stuff. We spend an evening in Corpus, celebrating my one and only publication of fiction work, then headed back to Houston. We spent time in cardiac ICU for days. When my brother was put in his own room, we headed home (a day later). But I’m returning as soon as he is released from the hospital so I can help look after him until he regains his strength.

In the meantime, I have obligations to fulfill for my church newsletter and the history project that’s aiming to document the first fifty years of Hot Springs Village. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem as important as it once did. Frankly, at this moment, I don’t care about HSV and its history. But I committed, so I’ll do what I can.

Though my brother is doing well and there’s nothing to suggest that anything will change in that regard, I want to cry. I want to upload the emotion that’s been building up in me for days. And I can only imagine my niece’s stress. But she seems so utterly calm. Maybe she didn’t get the same gene I got. I suspect not. My brother tends to be relaxed and able to deal with adversity far better than I. But I am a crybaby. I am not someone you’d want around you in an emergency. I am useless. I function, but not with hope. I assume the worst, I guess. I don’t think I’m always that way, but lately, I feel that. I feel like I ought to find a box and a bottle of gas and just fade, fade, fade away. I know. That’s selfish. I won’t do it. But there are days when I feel utterly defeated and useless. Crap. I guess today is one of them.

But I should be happy. Finally, today, I sold my sister’s old truck. I got far less than I should have, but it’s no longer a financial burden. Yet even knowing it’s gone causes tears to well up in my eyes. I should never have sold it to begin with. I should have kept it as a family heirloom. That’s no longer an option. Never was, really.

A day or two or three from now, I’ll make the nine-hour drive to Houston again to pick my brother up from the hospital and take him to his daughter’s house. I’ll spend whatever time I need to spend looking out after him and then drive home. I hope he recovers fast, both because I want to go home and because I want him to recover and go home where he belongs. Ach! I am so damn willing to wake up from a dream!

 

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Old Home Week

We arrived at the fringes of Corpus Christi yesterday afternoon around 4:30, locating our newish hotel situated in an industrial district near the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetary.  All along Interstate 37, our route into the city, chemical and/or petrochemical plants dotted the landscape. As I looked at area maps, vague memories surfaced, triggered by street names long since forgotten: Leopard Street and Up River Road, among others. This part of Corpus probably wasn’t part of Corpus when I left forty-six years ago. But the street names and the odor from nearby plants and the heavy, salty air dredge of memories. I think parts of Up River Road were used as a drag strip, not for dragsters but for street-legal vehicles that probably hadn’t even been upgraded by their teenage hormone-laden owners seeking to demonstrate their manhood by operating a piece of machinery they had no part in building. Teenage logic malfunctioned in those days.

After checking in to the motel, we decided to take a drive. We wandered up Leopard, past ragged houses and abandoned businesses and commercial strips that looked like they might have life left in them yet. I thought, “I doubt these places even existed forty-six or more years ago, but most of them have reached the end of their useful lives.” That thought startles me as I think that they are far younger than I. We reached Padre Island Drive, a street name that I recognize as something closer to me in memory. We lived not far from South Padre Island Drive, but SPID as I think it’s now known is a long stretch of freeway now. Back in my days in Corpus Christi, it was a divided road, but I don’t think it was a freeway. Maybe it was in process of upgrading, but my memory says it was simply four lanes, divided by an enormously wide median strip.

We drove past many street names that I recognized, but what struck me most was the extraordinary dense commercial activity on both sides of the road, the further south we went. I’ve been back a few times since I moved away, but every time I marvel at how “built up” SPID has become. Though we did not intend our little drive yesterday to serve as an errand, it became one as we neared Staples Street. My wife had looked online before we left Hot Springs Village, Arkansas to see if Houston (one of our stops on this trip) had a Half-Price Books store. She found, in her searches, that Corpus Christi had one on Staples at SPID. So we found it and took the bags to the buyers, who offered $10.50 for a group of books and said they could not buy the others, but could take them and donate them to libraries. My wife accepted both offers and we left in search of dinner.

Because it was already after 7:00 p.m., we opted to seek out something close so as to avoid driving in the dark in unfamiliar territory. We chose a restaurant, Taiwan, one of many restaurants in the enormous mall/strip center in which Half-Price Books is located. My wife opted for a Filipino dish that was interesting, if not particularly good (in my taste-buds’ opinion). I ordered something less adventurous. In my view, neither were worth a return trip, nor were they awful. Shopping center food for the masses.  After dinner, we stopped in to the H.E.B. so I could buy a six-pack of Shiner Bock. Our room has a refrigerator, so I could keep them cold.

Darkness fell as we drove back to the motel on I-37. We made an early evening of it, inasmuch as I got virtually no sleep the night before. I got a fair amount of sleep last night, but I was awake off and on during the night. But I got enough that I feel fine about wandering around Corpus today to see my old stomping grounds.

This evening, we’ll participate in a launch party for a book, Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology, which includes one of my short stories, On Open Water. I expect it will be fun. I’m one of thirty-seven writers whose work appears in the 170-page book. Some of us, me included (I hope) will read short snippets of our pieces. The works range from short fiction to selections from novels to poetry to memoir and, perhaps, more. Though my connections to Corpus Christi are few and none are as strong as they once were, now that I have no family nor close friends in the city, I’m glad I was invited to submit for the book. And I’m glad to have a reason, albeit not a truly compelling one, to make a road trip to Corpus. Unfortunately, I can’t make this trip as long or as expansive as I’d hoped, because one of my brothers just had major surgery and may need me to help him as he recovers, so I’m off to Houston tomorrow. But this little respite is good. I’m glad I made the trip, though I’ll only spend just a shade more than a day in and around Corpus.

I suppose I’d better get to it if I’m going to wander the city to see the place I used to call home.

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A Simple Desultory Dystopic

I recall a somber afternoon in January when it all began to fall apart. We knew we were circling the drain, but we didn’t realize just how quickly we would be sucked into the septic tank, that basin awash in bile. The acid and the hatred—so hot it melted steel and shattered diamonds—would strip our flesh down to the bone, leaving only a sharp-edged skeleton where our empathy and compassion once lived. That day seems a million years ago now. All that’s happened since then swirl into indistinguishable memories, a stew of ugly incidents that, against our will, define who we are.

The other candidate and the past president, both jailed on charges of treason, are painted with brushes saturated in lies. Wealthy opportunists scour the economy for ways to fill their already bulging coffers, reporting on their successes to the commander-in-chief, who urges them on to do more. He won’t be happy until he has emptied the pockets of every one of his starry-eyed nationalist supporters, leaving them penniless yet still foaming at the mouth from self-induced orgasms, spewing accolades for his leadership. Those monsters call themselves patriots, but we know them as fervent jingoes and racists, people who cower in fear at the prospect of a majority “minority” country.

But it’s too late now. We can’t turn back the clock. When elections were cancelled, we knew the worst was just around the corner. And it was. The civil war was anything but civil. Children as young as three years old were called traitors and put before firing squads to pay for their crimes. The entire state of Oklahoma was emptied of its citizens, then turned into a concentration camp where anyone deemed liberal or progressive was placed to face justice. All citizens were ordered to government identification offices, where they were forced to have their national identification number tattooed on the backs of their necks. After the deadline date for having the tattoo, anyone without one was subject to arrest and detention. If the person was determined to be a citizen, the tattoo was forcibly applied and the citizen was given a sentence of two years hard labor. If not a citizen and possessing no visa, the alien was killed on the spot by agents of the Immigration Court Executioners, or ICE.

The resistance, comprising fewer than five percent of the population, was crushed under the heels of goose-stepping citizen militias, thrilled at the prospect of finally being allowed to use their precious AR-15s “in support of the Constitution.” With the resistance ferreted out by NRA loyalists, the commander in chief dispatched the military to dispatch the militias. The efficiency with which the militias were eliminated was stunning. They were gone within five days of the order to take them out.

Yes, this is telling rather than showing. This is the sort of stuff that goes on the back cover of the book (though, I will admit, it would need to be shaved down to grace the back cover). And the passive voice here is over the top; if this were serious, I’d fix it. 

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Emerson, Lake, & Palmer: Voices from the Past

It’s been years since I spent more than just moments listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But I dedicated a bit of time to listening to them a couple of evenings ago. What prompted me was a recent NPR piece dedicated to Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. I love that music. During the broadcast, EL&P’s version was mentioned, so I listened the other evening. And I listened to Copland’s version(s), including one by the London Symphony Orchestra, directed by Copland. I love them all. But back to EL&P. I wasn’t utterly enamored to the group back in the day, but tonight I developed a new appreciation for their creativity and energy. Knife-Edge is incredible! It held me in rapt attention. And then I listened to Abaddon’s Bolero. Amazing! And Brain Salad Surgery!  And Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Pt. 2. Holy mother!  These things took me back to a time I’d truly forgotten. A time when I was a loud, reckless kid. There’s good and bad to that, of course.

I listened to various versions in which Copland was involved in one way or another. I loved them all. But I fell deeply in love with one by the Minnesota Orchestra, with Eiji Oue. That music not only can, but absolutely does, bring tears to one’s eyes.

From there, I went to Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21, Elvira Madigan. I didn’t realize how much I remembered of classical music. Well, it’s not that much. But I remember that it moves me. It’s easy to understand, having listened to EL&P alongside much more traditional versions of the same music and then following it with classical pieces from renowned composers, how music today traces its roots to a long, proud tradition of emotional “noise” that connects us to our souls.

 

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Scorpion Musings

I awoke an hour or so ago to my wife’s voice telling me there was a scorpion in the sink. I arose, walked into the bathroom, and looked into the sink. Yes, there was a very large, very lively scorpion there. Scorpions are no strangers to us. I place sticky insect traps in our garage at least once a week and they tend to fill by the next week with a number of scorpions. Yesterday, I counted how many scorpions met their demise by getting stuck to the flat strips of insect attractant: nine of the beasts had died (or were on their way there) since I last put out the traps. But large, unruly scorpions in the house are uncommon sights. And this one in the sink was very, very large. Perhaps it came up the drain? I don’t know. Regardless of how it got here, I don’t like scorpions in the house. So I murdered the thing, using a piece of flatware, a table knife. The creature did not expire peacefully. Even as I severed its body, its pincers tried to grip the air, fiercely sweeping back and forth. Its “tail,” curling and uncurling in rapid succession, attempted to kill its killer. Finally, the monster stuck to the knife and I carried it out to the garage, depositing its corpse onto the sticky trap, where it will stay until next Wednesday, trash day.

Waking to a call to kill a scorpion tends to get one’s adrenaline going, so I have been unable to even consider going back to bed. Instead, I went online to amuse myself. In so doing, I caused my heart rate to spike and the veins in my neck to bulge. I am a scorpion killer AND I am stupid. What possessed me to read the news? Why would I willingly expose myself to reports of the egotistical and idiotic ramblings of a malignant reptile occupying a position that once was revered? I am stupid, as I believe I said before. Unlike the post-digested rat feces in the White House, though, I know it. Let me lower my heart rate for a moment, please.

There. That’s better. This, too, shall pass. There will be a time when the aquifers beneath the Arizona deserts will be flush with water. There will be  a time when the carbon monoxide filling our atmosphere will have dissipated, replaced by fresh and natural vapors that will restore the planet’s atmosphere to its normal balance and will deflect the Sun’s most dangerous rays back into space. All of the animals roaming the Earth will be part of the natural order. Humans? Don’t be silly!

There’s an obvious contradiction between my views of the idea and my recent murderous behavior. In the ideal view, Earth will have returned to a natural state, free of the deviant attacks perpetrated by humankind. In today’s reality, though, an innocent scorpion that stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time was savagely butchered by a beast who longs for a time when beasts don’t sully the planet. Methinks there’s a lesson to be learned from the recognition of the dissonance therein.

The time is now 5:08. The likelihood that I will return to bed and get some sleep is declining with each passing moment. I just checked the outside temperature which, according to the gauges and computer reports, is an ungodly 85 degrees Fahrenheit. That fact, alone, is evidence that humankind has committed a sin against itself and Nature. Nature would not, of her own accord, allow pre-dawn temperatures to rise above 79 degrees.

I know this, because I’ve had conversations with Nature in which she said to me, in no uncertain terms, “I would never permit pre-dawn temperatures to rise above 79 degrees, unless compelled by the Forces of Darkness to do so. In fact, I would not permit temperatures to exceed 73 degrees except to warm humans that their wanton ways have consequences.”

Shortly after expressing those thoughts to me, Nature coughed and began to cough convulsively. She passed soon after, leaving us to cope, alone, with what we’ve done to our planet.

My thoughts remain with the poor scorpion. Why did it choose (if scorpions can make conscious “choices”) to go into my wife’s sink in the bathroom? How would this story have been different if it had, instead, climbed up on my flip-flop and waited patiently for me to slip into said footwear as I arose to go to the bathroom or get up for the day? Would my mind have wandered to the drying aquifers of Arizona had the scorpion opted to stay outside this morning? If a chance encounter with a scorpion can impact my thought processes so dramatically, then it must be true that a butterfly’s wings disturbing the air on another continent can, indeed, affect the climate in North America. We do, indeed, rely on “the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

It’s no longer 5:08. I’ve allowed my mind to wander and my fingers to rest, so it’s now 5:26 a.m. Time to stop filling space with meaningless drivel and, instead, fill my cup with something more valuable.

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Ties that Bind

A blogger, a man I’ve never met but who seems in many respects to share some of the emotional framework that keeps the flesh on my bones, wrote today about losing a friend and mentor. His mentor was a teacher, several years his senior, who recognized my friend’s need for a resource, a counselor ready to offer support and advice. As I read of his experience, I felt both pain at his loss and envy that my friend had the good fortune of having such a mentor. I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I’d had an older and wiser counselor; not to direct me, but to offer guidance and opportunities for input.

My father was fifty years old when I was born, so by the time I was fifteen and ready for advice and counsel, he was a sixty-five-year-old man ready to retire. I was the sixth of this children to need and want something in the way of advice, but by that time he was tired, I think. I don’t remember any substantive “father to son” advice from him. And I don’t recall any male teachers or other father figures who might have offered that father-to-son advice that I’ve always felt I missed growing up. I don’t know the details of the  youth of my friend whose mentor just died, but I suspect the presence of his mentor was a substitute for a father who wasn’t there in the way that we traditionally think fathers should be “there” for their children.

I do not fault my father in any form for failing to be my mentor. I don’t know how a sixty-five-year-old man could relate to a teenager who was just beginning to bud. I’m nearly sixty-five years old now. I would advise a fifteen year old kid to find someone else with whom he could relate; I’m neither interested in nor willing to invest my energy in a child at this stage of my life. That sounds cruel and selfish. My father was neither. But he had invested his time and talent in five other kids by that time; he was tired. Even if another adult had been available and willing to be available to serve as my counselor and guide, I doubt that I would have accepted the help. I was an angry kid. I still am in many ways. But I guess today the anger is directed at myself for having been unwilling to open myself up to people who were willing to help. I know they must have been there, but I was an angry kid, unwilling to accept help.

At any rate, I feel for my friend for his loss. He feels guilt, I think, that he did not take the time to go see his mentor recently, before the man died, to tell him how much the man meant to him. I understand his sense of guilt, though I think it’s misplaced. I am sure, based on what I’ve read about their interactions, that his mentor was well aware of how much his mentorship was valued and how strong the bonds of friendship had grown. Regardless, loss is hard. It’s brutal. That is true of life itself. I’ve known that for years and that’s why I’ve sometimes pondered ending it. But I won’t. Because there’s too much to learn, too much to appreciate, that outweighs the pain.

Yep. I’m wandering and making little sense. I do that sometimes. Like whenever I write and let my fingers be guided by my brain.

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Expressive Mumbling

There’s nothing appealing about my blog. No reason a person would want to come back to read it after they stumbled upon it once. In one sense, I’m okay with that. But in another I wish I had the capacity to write something of interest that would appeal to a broader audience. I’m here to tell you that’s not going to happen. This blog is mine and I will write what I want to write. I do wish more people would visit and comment, but that’s not why I’m posting here. I’m posting here for me. I think there are people “out there” who would love to read what amounts to my journal and expository of some of my writings. But they are few and far between. Such is life in the expressive mumblings of a man like me.

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