Hail Storm–06-02-2018

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

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Jigsaw Puzzle Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

 

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We Live in Absurd Times

Accuser: “Your dog bit my child.”

The Innocent: “I do not have a dog.”

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

The Innocent: “I do not own a  dog.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Innocent: “I don’t own a dog!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————————–

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

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Five-Twelfths Over and Done

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

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

+++

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

+++

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

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Insensitivity

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

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

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

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

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Something Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wherein Profound Insanity is Codified into Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Retracing My Dreams and Other Places My Mind Goes

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

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

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

+++

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

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

+++

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

 

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Cool Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Speed Limits in Samoa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Persian Food and Fantasies

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Exhilaration

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

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Of Rogues and Gypsies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Attempt at Gratitude

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

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

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

 

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So Sorry for Myself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wandering the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodbye, Steve Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angry Eye

It’s relatively late for an early morning blog post, so this will be short. But short is a relative term, isn’t it?

If visits to specialists weren’t so damn expensive, I’d make my plans to visit an ophthalmologist or dermatologist or ophthalmic dermatologist or dermatologic ophthalmologist soon. The issue is this: either I have one or more ingrown eyelashes or some other malady that causes my left eye to feel like an eyelash is intruding on ocular territory where eyelashes have no business. The “other malady” could be a lesion or some other physical abnormality on the edge of the eye lid. Considering the complexity of the human form, the “other malady” could be any one of literally hundreds of thousands of abnormalities. I would like to know the source of the irritation. More important than knowing the source, I’d like to know the cure. More important than knowing the cure, I’d like to have successfully experienced the cure. The modest pain associated with whatever it is bothering my left eye is enough to do damage to an otherwise nice morning. Cool temperatures (63F), mostly sunny skies, and the absence of wind make for a nice day outside, the sort of day that invites me onto the screened porch to listen to birds. When I went out to hang the hummingbird feeders, I heard the sound of cattle snorting and lowing in the fields in the valley below. Nice day! But my damn eye! Bothersome.

I’m trying to assess the degree of discomfort and adjust my attitude accordingly. Dealing with a scratchy, red, moderately painful left eye is better than coping with a dagger protruding from my midsection, I tell myself. And I’d rather adjust to an eye irritant than to excruciating pain anywhere in my body. I would opt, every time, for a minor eye irritant over having the back of my legs branded with hot steel. Even the perfect combination of temperatures, clouds, chirping birds, lowing cattle, and other pleasantness cannot make up for being branded. I can’t say that from experience, of course, but I’d rather not verify my opinion.

+++

If the world were an even more perfect place, I’d be able to cook some bacon this morning. I have not eaten bacon for a very, very long time. I don’t remember the last time. I don’t know just how long it’s been, but when “in recent memory” does not apply, that’s far too long. I’m not allowed to have bacon in the house on a regular basis. My wife believes pork bacon is not heart-healthy. I believe she’s been indoctrinated by the turkey bacon lobby. We used to keep turkey bacon in the house. I once invited her to read the ingredient list on a package of turkey bacon (processed turkey pieces, water, salt, sugar, canola oil, sunflower oil, “natural flavor,” sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite). We switched to Canadian bacon (so, okay, I eat bacon regularly, just not “normal” bacon). I might make something unusual for breakfast this morning. If we had ground pork, I might make congee, flavored with pork and shallots. If we had shallots.  Why can’t I be satisfied with normal North American breakfasts like normal North Americans? My fascination with breakfasts around the world, it’s a curse. Yet I’d happily eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, if I had “streaky bacon.” That’s what some people call what I call “normal” bacon. Normal. Like bacon in other countries is abnormal? How arrogant of me to even think it. If we had pickled herring in the fridge, I’d gladly make a breakfast of pickled herring, cheese, olives, dark rye toast, and sliced tomatoes.  If we had dark rye bread (we ran out yesterday). And if we had tomatoes. Damn, a person could starve in this house! Not really. We have plenty of food. More than we need, in fact. I complain for the sake of complaining. It would be awfully embarrassing to attempt to complain, only to discover I do it poorly because I’m out of practice.

If I don’t get with it and check to see what we have that could be transformed into a good breakfast, I’ll find myself hungry with nothing to eat. At least a fruitless search for food will keep my mind off my angry eye.

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Weather-Induced Psychosis

Several lines of thunderstorms passed through this afternoon with heavy downpours, high winds, bolts of lightning, and cracks of thunder that rattle the rafters and my bones. I love watching and listening to the power of Mother Nature. In spite of the fear spawned by watching huge trees bend nearly in half in the wind, I am in love with the raw power of nature.

After the heaviest of the rain (so far) slipped past us, I opened windows and doors, letting much cooler air flood through the house. Though we were comfortable with the thermostat set at 79 and the temperature adapting to our requirement, the flow of much cooler temperatures through screened windows is delightful. Our thermometer asserts the outside temperature is 66 to 67 degrees. That 12 degree drop from “normal” is a delight. I could sleep like this so extremely well. I risked opening the windows, though, only because the rain must have washed most of the airborne pollen out of the air, at least temporarily. Though I love nature, I’d like to identify, mark, and kill every tree that sends tons and tons of pollen into the air around us. That’s selfish and demonic and identifies me as the basest of the base human forms, but that’s the way it is. I love trees. I love cool temperatures even more.

+++

We (a small group of Unitarian Universalists and their ilk) completed module number eight of an eight-module course on church leadership today. Though there were bits and pieces that reinforced things I’ve long since forgotten, there was nothing new. And the program was astonishingly slow and agonizingly repetitive. And the technical aspects seemed to have been handled by people unfamiliar with video editing. At the conclusion, we celebrated. I would have preferred wine to water and venison backstrap to candy, but no one asked. And I know of no one willing to contribute venison backstrap to such a celebration. It’s over, though. But we’re thinking about continuing our little group discussion, but adjusting it to address major issues of the day with a difference from our usual approach: we want to address issues of concern from OUR perspective, but we want to hear an articulate expression of opposing views. We don’t want to argue, we want to understand. And vice versa. It’s a noble idea. I hope we can find a way to make it happen. I think we tend to assume our way of looking at the world is always the right way. I tend to believe, even my perspective, our views are shaped by misconceptions and erroneous information.

+++

The wind blowing in my face is absolutely glorious! If I could bottle this sense of joy caused by a relative small drop in temperature, I’d have an enormous backlog of orders. But the wine. The wine that accompanies this joyous airborne experience is only moderately adequate. It’s a box wine, wine we purloined from a facility that’s not supposed to allow people to leave with wine. We tricked the people in charge (I feel moderately bad for being such a monster) to look another way while we left with the wine. We had paid for two boxes of wine; almost none of it was consumed, thanks to an appallingly low turnout for our event. So we wanted to take the wine. But state law says “no.” I say to state law, “bite me.” So we broke the law. If a law enforcement officer reads this blog and attempts to arrest me, I will claim that I’m a fiction writer. What I just wrote is pure fiction. We left with water. Only water. After drinking several glasses of water, I fell into a deep, water-induced sleep. Yeah. That’s it.

+++

For reasons that, honestly, escape me, I’ve been wondering about the motives for adultery. Why do people “stray?” Is adultery really as horrible as we make it out to be? Is it possible for one person to love or, at least, have extremely strong feelings for, more than one person at the same time? Is marriage really as “sacred” a commitment as religions (mostly) make it out to be? And I’ve been having Jimmy Carter level questions about the morality of “lusting after” people who are not our spouses. Aside from the psychological damage it might inflict on a spouse (reason enough to avoid it), is adultery really immoral? Would society be healthier if we all decided that spouses or partners would no longer be judged for the occasional “fling” or an even more intense departure from the norm?  I’m just asking for a friend. 🙂 No, seriously, that was intended as a joke. Probably not a good one.

I blame the weather for this post. The cool temperatures make me crazy(ier than normal). The aroma of wet clots of pine needles rotting in the soil is intoxicating. But I know things will return to normal. Some times, I hate normal. I dream of all forms of deviance. Normal is the province of the dying. We need to shake things up on occasion. Build walls and fences just so we can tear them down in fits of righteous rage. Imprison people who break misdemeanor laws and lock them away as if they have just hacked the president of the United States to death with a meat cleaver. Oh, wait. Never mind.

+++

 

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Childhood Memories

Last night, my wife and our house guest and I talked about our memories of childhood. As usual, my memories of my earlier years left me with little to say. I remember only snippets that mean virtually nothing to me. The context of those memories seems to have disappeared. My wife and our guest, though, remembered more. And the more we talked, the more they remembered. Our guest said she had read somewhere that memories of one’s past tend to grow stronger and more distinct when we talk about them. She spoke of someone who was writing a memoir; this person said memories improve when we focus on them. Though the metaphor simile wasn’t used in our conversation, memories are like trees that grow taller and stronger when their roots are nourished with conversation.

The conversation then turned to the question of whether our early memories are true memories or are, instead, recollections manufactured by stories we’ve heard or photographs we’s seen or conversations to which we’ve been privy over the years. Someone said a psychologist has written that sixty percent of childhood memories are not our own but, rather, were created from others’ experiences relayed to us verbally or visually. That’s interesting, but it makes me wonder whether the relative paucity of my childhood memories is  because my behavior as a child wasn’t discussed in polite conversation.

I’ve said a number of times to a number of people that I haven’t seen many photos of me as a child. “Many” is a relative term, of course. I’m sure I’ve seen several dozen photos, but not the hundreds or thousands that others I know have of their early years. I remember many specific photos, but I don’t know where they are today. I don’t think I have them tucked away in boxes. I wonder if my siblings have them or whether the pictures have slowly been discarded as irrelevant snapshots from the past. The relative shortage of childhood photos has continued during my adulthood. I tend to take more photos now (thanks to my smartphone), but often I forget to capture moment that I might like to relive, visually, years hence. Friends and acquaintances have told me about their massive collections of photos. Perhaps people with children are more motivated to take pictures so that their children and grandchildren will have photographic evidence of their ancestry.

While I’m on the subject of memories and photos, I wonder whether photos of our youth might tend to serve as triggers for memories and bases around which to build memories that don’t actually exist? That is, if I see a photo of myself as a child building a sandcastle, might that photo serve as a base around which to construct memories of going to the beach, sitting on a towel, etc.? I’m trying to describe in words that fail me something like using a sourdough “starter” when making sourdough bread. That small “starter” is what creates the much larger and more complete loaf.

Perhaps I should I now direct this conversation with myself to the pros and cons of baking. Perhaps I should I take this opportunity to explore reasons I am so enthralled with cooking, but have shied away from baking. But I won’t do that.

Instead, I’ll end with a story I remember from sometime in my youth. The story suggests that one’s physical strength increases with incremental muscular and skeletal challenge. For example, the story suggests, if a person were to pick up a newborn calf several times on the day it is born, and then repeat that action every day of the calf’s life for two years, the person would, on the calf’s second birthday, be able to pick up a full-grown cow. I distinctly do not remember having ever picked up a newborn calf. That may explain my inability to pick up a full grow cow today.

Today is L’Audible Art. I’ll read two short stories, The Awful Truth and Snake Sighting, and one poem, The Words I Write. Thanks to the lack of marketing, we may have a tiny audience. I’ll read anyway. Because we said we would.

And with that, let me wish you a very happy May 14.

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Bouncing Off Cell Walls

When I got out of bed this morning, a good hour after I first awoke, I went outside to hang the hummingbird feeders. The outside temperature felt so much better than inside. Inside, the thermometer registers 77 degrees; outside, 68. Except for the damn pollen, I’d have every window in the house open. We keep the thermostat at 78 for air conditioning in the warm seasons and at 68 for cool seasons. I prefer the cooler temperatures. My body was constructed for life in a cooler climate and, perhaps, a different era. I can imagine getting up early in the morning, hungry and ready to seek breakfast in the untamed wilds outside my cave. Nah, not really. If I’d been born to a cave-dweller several thousand years ago, I would have long since died. My disease-ridden body wouldn’t have made it past the age of twenty-one. But maybe things would have been different. Maybe the sedentary ways of my youth would have given way to frenzied physical activity as I chased game for food, climbed trees, sought shelter, and in a twist to history, invented the printing press.

Yes, I feel relatively confident that I would have been the first to conceive of and create the printing press, had I been born in the appropriate circumstances.  In fact, now that I’m thinking of it, I think I remember those early days when, in brief flashes of brilliance, I advanced civilization by hundreds, if not thousands, of years simply by executing outlandish ideas. Even before mining and extracting metal from ore, I used dried plant products to shape drums and gears and letters and, through ingenuity unheard of amongst other cave-dwellers, I manufactured the first printing press. Plant-based dyes, principally made from beet juice and roasted red peppers, constituted the first inks. After creating the press, making the ink, and creating crude papers, I printed several books. At the time, of course, no one knew how to read (even spoken language was in its youth in those days), but I toiled night and day to teach them. And then came the meteors. What a waste of energy and talent; my work was so advanced. Thousands of years before Johannes Gutenberg’s so-called breakthrough, I printed the first advertising flyer. But all those advances were lost in the meteor showers.

But I wasn’t talking about my early years, was I? No, I was expressing my preference for cooler weather when my fingers were hijacked by a delusional madman. Back to the matter at hand. I wonder if anyone has gathered daily high and low temperature data from all around the planet during the last, say, eighty years and has analyzed those data in a way that might identify the ideal location, strictly from the perspective of temperature? I’d like to know what places on this planet I might be able to visit and expect with some degree of certainty that overnight lows will never dip below 45F and daytime highs will never exceed 80F. And, if such places do not exist, what locations come closest? Once identified, I’d like to know more about the places. Is potable water readily available? Might I expect reliable food sources within easy walking distance? Is electricity available and affordable? How about high-speed internet and WiFi? I suppose I could do without some of the luxuries; if food is not within walking distance, I could cope as long as the roads are smooth and reasonably-priced bicycle rentals can be had.

What is it that causes an otherwise arguably  normal sixty-four-year-old man to slip into nonsensical blatherings such as I have just recorded here? Might the pollen be to blame? Did someone spike my coffee with lysergic acid diethylamide or other hallucinogenic substance? Were the mushrooms on yesterday’s pizza not the button variety? Maybe the  cells in my brain are out of whack and electrical impulses are bouncing off the cell walls.Some days, my normal teenage dementia returns with a vengeance, causing me to edge dangerously close to the edge of the precipice. Were I to fall, I might find it impossible to crawl out of the abyss of insanity. That’s why I should always carry a rope and a cell phone.

It’s now just after seven o’clock and the first cup of coffee is gone. The sky is absent clouds but a soft translucent haze makes the distant hills look like I am gazing out the window at the Smoky Mountains instead of the Ouachitas. I’m sure my wife will arise shortly and our house guest, too, will emerge from the guest room. I should prepare for those eventualities and should commence the process of cooking the casserole I prepared last night for today’s church shindig. Our guest will go visit the church she used to attend while my wife and I visit ours (and feed the gathered masses a rather nice chicken-potato-lemon casserole). Before attacking the rest of the day, I need another cup of dark, black, and very strong French roast coffee. That will calm my frazzled nerves, won’t it? Indeed it will.

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The Daily Drivel

Once again, I am alone in the early morning darkness, the house bathed in the kitchen’s light. My wife and our house guest are asleep, as one would expect at such an ungodly hour, and I am alone with my thoughts and my hot cup of freshly brewed coffee. For some reason, it occurred to me the moment I awoke that washing clothes at this hour makes perfectly good sense, so I emptied the clothes hamper of shirts and shorts and socks and put said garments in the washer. Forty minutes hence, more or less, they will be clean and ready for the dryer. The sound of the washer’s “cycle completed” alert may wake the others several minutes before five o’clock, but people should be awake and alert by that hour, anyway, in my opinion.

No, I’d really rather be alone with my thoughts, letting my fingers sprint across the keyboard in their efforts to record what’s on my mind. I depend on my fingers to express my thoughts; they do a far better job of it than my tongue, which trips and stumbles in fruitless attempts to articulate what’s on my mind. My fingers are far better suited to the task and they’re more practiced at it. And, to be honest—and at this hour and with no one awake and aware but me, honesty is absolutely necessary—I don’t much like the sound of my voice. I like the way I think it sounds, but to hear it played back to me from a recording device I realize it’s the croaking from a poorly constructed throat aided by malformed vocal chords and an inadequate diaphragm. There are more broken pieces involved, I’m sure, but those are the key players in the noise emanating from my lips. So, my fingers, lacking the distractions of voice, do a better job of expressing myself.

I’ve gone off on a tangent, haven’t I? Well, yes I have. And it’s no wonder. I don’t really know what’s on my mind, so I let my fingers skip across the keyboard as if playing a game from my childhood. Not that I recollect any games from my childhood. I really don’t. Sometimes, I wonder whether I had a childhood. Most people seem to recall with fond appreciation the games they played, the friends they had, their teachers, etc. I remember Ms. Corbett and Ms. Stephenson (I don’t recall whether either of them were Mrs. or Miss), my first and third grade teachers, respectively. I think Ms. Painter was my second grade teacher. I know Ms. WhyCan’tIRememberHerName was my fourth grade teacher; she was blonde and was the owner of a brood who attended the same school. Aside from those recollections, most childhood memories either have been erased or buried under more recent records of where, when, and who I was at any given moment. I know more childhood memories exist beneath or within the layers of brain cells in my head because I’ve written about them. But, for the moment, they’re out on recess, ignoring the bell calling them back in to focus on the studies at hand.

My job today, aside from entertaining our house guest and finishing the load of laundry I started a while ago, is to do the preparatory work for a casserole I’ve agreed to take to church tomorrow in honor of the Ladies’ Day Luncheon. It used to be the Mothers’ Day Luncheon, but someone decided it would be best to honor all ladies, not just all mothers. I wonder why it’s not called the Women’s Day Luncheon (or is that Womens’?) to honor all women. I suppose it’s possible that someone in charge (if there is such a someone) decided to make a subtle dig at women in the congregation who, in someone’s opinion, are not “ladies.” That doesn’t sound like the sort of folks who attend the church. So, I choose to believe someone simply slipped into the language of an earlier time. The importance of the name given the event is far less than the space I’ve given it here, so I’ll stop. Instead, let me explain what I’m going to make for the luncheon. It’s called “Easy Lemon Chicken Potato Casserole.” I’ve made the aptly named dish before. If I were making it for home consumption, I would incorporate liberal amounts of jalapeños or habanero peppers to add flavor and excitement, but such an addition would make the dish inedible to many in the congregation, so I’ll refrain from the improvements. Tomorrow, in addition to providing food, I’ll help with set-up, serving, and clean-up. The “ladies” are to be waited on. The organizer of the event claims the men who help earn “brownie points” for an entire year. As if a single day of not expecting women to do “woman’s work” is worthy of a year in which men are waited on hand and food. I think I may have the wrong attitude. I know the intent of the event is good, but it just seems to me that, even in jest, suggesting that this one-day affair in which men do “traditional” woman’s work is an adequate sharing of the burden of feeding people is…I don’t know, just insulting. Maybe I shouldn’t have volunteered. With my attitude, things could get ugly. But I won’t let them. I’ll be good. I’ll just cook my casserole, prepare and serve and clean up, and keep my mouth shut. Best for me to write about it, anyway, inasmuch as my voice would simply sound like the screech of an angry barn owl.

Pause. The clothes are clean. They’re in the dryer now and, if all goes according to plan, they will be dry and cool, ready for hangers, in around forty-five minutes. Don’t worry. I won’t continue writing for the entire dry cycle.

For some reason, even though the indoor temperature reads 77 degrees, the room feels hot. And humid. I’d really like to open the doors onto the screen porch and let is some cool morning air, but doing so would also let masses of pollen flow into the house. In a matter of an hour or less, a thin yellow film would cover every surface. The air would feel cooler, but the house would require a deep cleaning. And everyone would have a bit of a hard time breathing, what with their noses and lungs exposed to allergy-inducing “stuff.”

If I’d been thinking yesterday while preparing for our guest’s arrival, I would have taken the ear buds out of the desk in the guest room so I could listen to music or news or whatever this morning. But, apparently, I wasn’t thinking. So, in the interest of not interrupting the sleep patterns of people who have more normal patterns than I, I will not play music or listen to the news. Instead, I will now turn to another morning ritual, wandering the web, looking for ideas and inspiration and motivation. If you’ve read this far, you’re a better person than I. It occurs to me I could start an online “news” service. I’d call it The Daily Drivel.

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Is It Going To or Running From?

A friend—a woman who worked for me years ago and is largely responsible for our move to Hot Springs Village—is in town and will spend the next few days with us.  Her husband died a couple of months ago and she is in the midst of transition. She has left her apartment in a Houston suburb and is in the process of moving to Kansas City to be near family. In the interim, she is engaged in her long-held fantasy of spending time
“on the road,” visiting friends and family far and wide. Her fantasy included traveling with her dog, Cooper, but she decided that the realities of life on the road would make Cooper’s life a bit chaotic and unsettling, so she gave Cooper to a family who was delighted to give him a home. And now my friend  is relatively free to wander and spend time with friends.  My wife and I look forward to spending time with her and learning more about her plans for the future. And we’ll probably rib her about luring us to the Village, and then abandoning us. That’s not quite what happened, but what the hell. In fact, she and her husband had retired to the Village from New Hampshire several years before. They were visiting family in Dallas and called to invite us to join them for lunch. We hadn’t seen them in years and were eager to catch up. During lunch, we told them we were planning on selling our home in Dallas and retiring to…someplace as yet undecided. They invited us to visit them in Hot Springs Village and take a look around. “You’ll love it.” We did. And they were right. The natural beauty, peaceful setting, and extraordinarily low cost of housing (and low taxes) got us. We bought a house in the Village only a few months later.

The freedom to travel, to wander from place to place and stay as long as one wants appeals to me. It always has. I’ve never experienced such freedom, but I’ve dreamed and fantasized about it. Before we decided to move to Hot Springs Village, we talked about the possibility of buying a small RV and wandering the country. The cost of gas, the carbon footprint, the cost of RV sites, the cost of an RV, and the demands and complexities of RV ownership dissuaded us. And the idea of leading a lumbering RV, even a relatively agile small RV, in front of an increasingly angry line of drivers on a one-lane road up a steep incline sealed the deal. No RV. Home ownership, though, is as much of a anchor around one’s neck as dealing with an RV. Home ownership absorbs the money one might otherwise use on travel. And leaving a home for months on end requires expenses and logistical planning for mail delivery, turning water and power on and off, having someone check on the house and deal with problems. I’m not opposed to home ownership, but I wish it were simpler. It could be. I guess we just make it difficult to leave our homes and travel. Other people do it. Why can’t we? Indeed? What’s stopping us? Those questions merit serious conversations between my wife and me. I suppose one answer may be that she’s not nearly as in love with the idea of wandering from place to place as I.  After I retired, I hatched a plan to get a one-week-long job in each of the fifty states over a one-year period. The idea was to get exposed to a completely different industry/business/profession every week and write about it. At the end of the year, I’d finish my writing and have a book ready to sell. I called this idea the New Tricks Tour. You know, old dog, new tricks. Proof that someone around or over sixty can, indeed, learn something new and talk about it. It would have required considerable logistical planning, convincing prospective “employers” to let me work for them for a week (with full knowledge of my plan), getting housing in each location, etc.  But it sounded like great fun to me. Like so many other of my ideas, I ended up abandoning it. Other people had done similar things before me. My idea was not new. My enthusiasm waned. When I weighed the fun and new experiences against the logistical challenges and expenses, I tucked my tail between my legs and slunk away from the plot.

Later this summer, near the end of July, we may take a road trip to Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus was my childhood home from the time I was five until I left home just months before my nineteenth birthday to go to college. Those years of living in Corpus gave me the opportunity to submit a short story for publication in an anthology of pieces by Corpus Christi writers. The publisher asked me to consider submitting something, so I did. And, with only a few edits, he accepted the piece. The launch party will be held in Corpus in July and all contributors—thirty-five in all—were invited. I might be the only one who lives out of Corpus Christ. I don’t know who else is included, nor what sorts of things they submitted. But I’m anxious to learn about the book. My “payment” will be a copy of the book. And free (I assume) booze and hors d’oeuvre if I go to the launch party. Assuming we decide to make the trip. we’ll turn it into a driving vacation. I imagine we’ll drive to Padre Island, where we’ll be stunned and horrified to see what’s been done to the National Seashore by developers allowed to sully the beaches with condominiums and such (I’ll be delighted to be wrong). And we might skirt the coast as we head further south toward Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. If I hold enough sway, we’ll wander back northward through the Hill Country, where we’ll spend a few days eating Texas BBQ, especially brisket, a flavor I simply cannot get in Arkansas. And we’ll visit a niece and her husband in Houston and a brother in the hinterlands north of Houston. And maybe we’ll drive up to Dallas and visit friends there. We’ll see. The trip I envision would take at least three weeks if done “right” by my standards.

A few days ago, at a birthday party for a neighbor, I got into a conversation with one of the guests about international travel. She told me about some of the places she’s been (she and her husband have  traveled extensively), as far-flung as Chile and Croatia and Argentina and South Africa and Thailand and Vietnam and Russia and…on and on. From her comments, I could tell she is the sort of person who likes to dive into the culture of a place and live like the locals. Her husband follows her, but often is several blocks behind her as they walk because he wants to capture everyone on film. He told me he produces a photo catalog, many pages long, of every one of their trips. Ah,travel to those places is appealing, too, but that sort of travel also requires the freedom and money to go. And the handling of logistics while away at the ends of the earth.

I’ve read such diametrically opposed views of travel. On the one hand, some write, travel is simply an escape, a way to avoid facing problems one wishes would just go away; it is a poorly constructed crutch designed for avoidance. On the other, some describe travel as a marvelous way to expand one’s horizons, open one’s eyes, and educate oneself to the reality that humanity and nature both are far more beautiful and complex and interesting than the cocoon in which we sometimes allow ourselves to live. I lean heavily toward the latter view, but I’ll acknowledge that the former may have some validity.

It happened again. I let my thoughts leak out of the end of my fingers onto the keyboard and up on the screen. It’s time I stop and finish my cold cup of coffee and reflect on why I so frequently return to the themes that spilled into this post.

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Lost

Deep in the early morning, even before the wind awakens,
I slip out of bed and roam from room to room, looking
for evidence that I belong here, testimony that I have
a right to prowl in my restless search for something to
replace the sleep that eludes me in the pitch black night.

Not yet half past two, the night is too young to abandon,
yet too old to warrant all the attention I could give it
were I of a mind to fawn over sleep that’s gone missing
like a precious child who didn’t return from school after
boredom led her to wander into a creek on the way home.

Some nights I struggle against an urge to simply slip away,
disappearing into the darkness and emerging days or weeks
or years later in another country or another time or as another
person, cleansed of the detritus of reckless mistakes I’ve made
during a lifetime of clinging to lifeboats earned by someone else.

 

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From Russia with Love

May 2007. My only visit to Moscow. My only visit to Russia. I stayed at the Golden Ring Hotel. Aside from a horrifying white-knuckle trip via taxi from the airport to the hotel, not much stands out about the trip in my recollection. Well, there was that evening at the hookah bar after dinner and our group had dinner another evening in a private dining room in the Kremlin. That was a privilege rarely extended to “outside” groups, I was told. I suspect that one of our Russian hosts—a woman with whom I remain remotely connected via Facebook—was responsible for making that happen. The woman, absolutely beautiful with deep blue eyes and golden blonde hair, is CEO of several companies that do business internationally. I do vaguely recall my departure from Moscow, wading through line after line to have my papers checked, my passport reviewed, and my airline tickets examined. I took those line to be assertions of bureaucratic control, reminders that I was a commodity to be dealt with as the bureaucrats wished. I don’t recall the flight from Moscow to London on the way home, but American Express receipts suggest I did, indeed, fly to London. Then, the next day, I flew back to Dallas. And, according to American Express, I ate dinner at a Heathrow hotel restaurant the evening before I returned home. It’s amazing how much more one can “recall” from one’s travels by looking at old credit card bills.

I stumbled across several notebooks stored in boxes in the garage the other day, each labeled with a year. The one I happened to leaf through was 2007. That’s how I came across the evidence reminders of my travel to Moscow. I didn’t pay sufficient attention to the receipts to learn  how long I stayed in Moscow, but I am sure it was just a few days, probably three, maybe four at most. I was extremely frugal with my clients’ money and time, so my travel on their behalf was strictly business. I rarely took time for myself, either before or after meetings. I regret that I didn’t take the opportunities to see more of the world when I had the chance. Opportunities like those I missed don’t come around often.

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