5/2/03-Fri.- This past few days have been marked mainly by my decision not to keep looking for another job, for now, but to simply do the temporary test paper grading work for Harcourt, looking for other seasonal or part-time opportunities later in the year.
Yesterday I went to see the movie "The Pianist," an excellent film but terribly depressing in its realistic depiction of war and genocide horrors.
I've had a couple minor but interesting encounters with nature lately. A couple days ago, immediately after I'd put an envelope into the neighborhood mailbox slot, a brownish-black form shot out of it toward my face just as I'd imagine in some nightmare would a striking serpent. Once getting over my startle reaction, I realized it was just a small bird, perhaps a wren, that apparently had taken up these unlikely quarters for nesting.
This morning I was sipping coffee, inside at our local supermarket's deli area, when a great-tailed grackle (a local bird only slightly smaller than a crow or raven) nonchalantly flew over, settled on a decorative split-open bag of corn a few feet from me, and calmly began eating the kernels therein. I've seen birds trapped inside and consequently frantic before, but this creature seemed right at home. He was only a few more yards from some succulent grapes and other goodies, a fact I'm sure he had noticed. The ceilings are so high in this warehouse of a place, I wonder how or if management will ever catch him. He can always just go up when they try to apprehend him. After all, he has the power of flight. I wonder if health rules will dictate that he be hunted down inside the premises.
Mowed our backyard yesterday. For some reason I was reminded of my first day working with my brother Ron (whom, by the way, Fran and I will visit, along with seeing his partner, Claudia, and his daughters, Esther and Jane, this weekend) in a yard care business, back on a spring day in 1972, when I was in my twenties and he finishing high school or just through with that hallmark of erudition.
Our tasks that morning were simple: to mow and edge the lawn and move a pair of evergreen shrubs from the front to the back. Ron always has led with his brawn, and this was no exception. He said he would take care of the digging and transplanting if I'd handle the mowing, etc.
I should mention that, soon after we'd started, the owners of the house and yard, and our temporary employers, rushed off with their young daughter who had just been bitten in the backyard by a rattlesnake.
Soon after they'd left, Ron lifted the pick high over his head and slammed its point down into the earth with all his might, doing his Paul Bunyan imitation. Instantly, a geyser about six feet high appeared out of the deceptively small hole he'd thus created. He'd hit the water line. As I was later finishing up the job, the whirring blade of my power edger flicked a stone into my truck window, shattering the glass.
Though, in lieu of our reimbursing for the damaged conduit, they did not pay us for our efforts that morning and said they'd just as soon we not return, the owners at least did not consider our efforts there a total waste. After a brief roar as the clutch and blade of the mower accommodated a large obstruction, while I was mowing the high grass in back, a rattlesnake head, no longer attached to its chopped up body, came flying out.
Their daughter recovered well after her frightening experience.
That week was one of my worst in an abortive attempt at self-employment. Exhausted after about twelve hours on the yards, one evening a couple days later I misjudged my parking clearance and ploughed the truck into the side of another vehicle back at my apartment complex. Oh well.
Tonight, Sam is coming over again for a Baltic Buzzards rehearsal with Fran. Later she and I will listen once more to our favorite Friday evening program, "Film Score Focus."
Monday I have a dental appointment. Then, Thursday I'm off for a few days to Waco for visiting with relatives there and celebrating Mothers' Day.
5/3/03-Sat.- Last night on my walk I saw an adult blind snake, about eight inches long. I watched it for awhile, and then it slid off and disappeared into the grass.
We've been having a dry spring. Almost everyday now we experience quite muggy weather, but the rain does not materialize. I return from my walks damp with sweat and uncomfortable. Still, our home is air-conditioned, so it's no big deal so long as we stay inside most of the time.
In reviewing my entries from 1978 and earlier, prior to their being transcribed and placed online, I'm struck by how much the idea of our involvement in the process of reality had fascinated me. Yet, I was also often skeptical and struggling to see things more practically. The idealism inherent in a view that we create our universes of experience, more than vice versa, seems only natural for a finite creature with the imagination to dream of the infinite.
Eventually, though, at least for grownups, all such fantasies and fairy tales, whether those of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jesus as everyone's Savior, an eastern mystic here to lead us individually into the highest spiritual realms, or the United States of America, led by a born-again Christian, being part of a messianic, divinely ordained plan and crusade to rid the world of evil, however seductive to those who wish to be seduced, are not tenable notions in the light of rigorously rational thought.
As children, we would ask our parents to tell us a story. For a little while, we would enter into a trance state called "let's pretend." For some, such stories we now keep telling ourselves are not merely entertainment but the means by which to give ourselves excitement, meaning, or a sense of power that our lives sadly lack by other, more legitimate means.
5/7/03-Wed.- I'm very much enjoying a new article in the May, 2003, issue of "Scientific American," ("Parallel Universes," by Max Tegmark, pp. 41-51). The intriguing possibilities explained here certainly inspire an already active imagination. In an infinite universe or "multiverse," anything that is not actually impossible must occur, leading to all sorts of weird phenomena, including that "somewhere out there" is another person just like me, and someone else precisely like you, doing exactly what we each are doing right now. And that is one of the least strange conclusions of Tegmark's piece.
Here in south Austin, all our days and nights now are sauna-like, as spring has already morphed into summer, and we are receiving just enough moisture to make things really uncomfortable outside. It's nice to have air conditioning, which of course just refers to cool air, as opposed to heat, the only other type of conditioned air available here. (There may be still more types of conditioning available by air, but they are outside my experience. Perhaps perfumed air, pot-smoke air, true fresh air [i.e. never used before, unlike most that comes in the windows, which may have been in the lungs of all manner of riff-raff, from Genghis Khan, Joseph Stalin, Alexander the Great, Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, to Saddam Hussein, or even Methuselah!]?)
When I was growing up, we usually did without this (air conditioning) necessity (of modern life in warm areas of developed countries). My cars, for the past thirty years, have still not been well endowed with conditioned air. They were cheap, and that was the best thing about these means of transport. Of course, the windows work. So how can I say they were not air conditioned?
Reminds me of my 1975 visit to India and miscommunication there about the meaning of the phrase. For the first couple nights, I stayed in a medium-priced hotel in New Delhi. I was asked at the front desk if I wished an air conditioned room. Although this was late November, well into the fall season there, it seemed rather warm to me during the day, so I was delighted to pay extra for this luxury.
Later that first evening, jet-lagged and exhausted after about a day and a half of plane flights, layovers, and other activities but no real rest between Austin and India's capital, yet being still unable to sleep with the level of warmth prevalent in my room after the air conditioning came on, I complained to the desk clerk. It turned out my air conditioning worked very well, the warm conditioned air coming out of a vent near the ceiling. There were no controls in my room, though, and, even if there had been, no way of cooling things off. "Air conditioning" there just meant warm air in the fall and winter.
Our lives are progressing apace, with their share of interesting developments.
Late last week, all on the same day, I was notified by mail that I have jury duty beginning at the same time as the training for my new temporary job, that our homeowner's insurance policy is being suspended and will not be renewed (because there have been too many claims in this state due to virulent fungus and mold infestations and damage), and that our health insurance rates were going way up, while our health services were going down.
With respect to the last of these examples of how to fulfill the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," we cannot refill our retail-store-provided medication prescriptions, for routine, long-term medicines, as for my thyroid hormone replacement or Fran's birth control pills. Instead, we must, all exclusively at our own initiative and inconvenience, arrange such things to be prescribed, if our doctors happen to be cooperative, through mail order, with none of the steps arranged for us by those who have decreed the new limitations.
In learning more today about this latest extreme of "managed care," I discovered that one must always maintain a month's supply of one's meds, in case of mail order procedure delays or losses, but there was no explanation for how one could both keep a thirty-day supply and use it up, in the event it had to be employed, given that there was no provision for restoring one's emergency batch.
There was, however, provision for counseling patients on the side-effects of having run out of their medications, like, I suppose, developing goiter or becoming pregnant. We are somewhat less than thrilled with the new arrangements.
Our weekend could have been a bit better, but I'll not bore the reader with all the oddness, except to note visiting my brother, Ron, and his partner, Claudia. The latter personage stores large quantities of beer in their refrigerator and drinks regularly in front of Ron, though knowing well he is an alcoholic and has been, sometimes with difficulty, staying sober for about seven years now. He has commented to her at times that the beers surely made him feel thirsty.
As (I believe) Art Linkletter said, "People are funny."
The jury duty requirements permitting (have put in for a postponement of my obligations to the court, but not heard yet till when and if they may be delayed), I expect to begin my training for the exam grader job next week. Meanwhile, we shall just have to get a new, expensive homeowner's policy, one that offers less but costs more. And we also have no real choice about the increased health costs and lower level of medical or pharmaceutical services. It is as well I am going back to work, as our costs keep going up.
I heard today in the news that there is serious concern, among economists and by Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan, about our nation falling into a period of deflation. The last time the USA experienced seriously downward spiraling prices was in the Great Depression. But I suspect Greenspan and company have just not learned yet of the examples of Fran and I, and millions of other Americans like us, for whom, notwithstanding that computer prices are going down, inflation while on a fixed income is the real concern.
Tomorrow morning I'm off to Waco again, for visits with Mom and other relatives there. Am especially looking forward to time with several nieces or nephews. Fran and Pepper will be staying home this time. In honor of Mother's Day, I'll be taking mine out for dinner, giving her a bookstore gift card, and helping out with some chores around her place.
The dental appointment the other day went fairly well. I do need a damaged filling replaced, but the radical reconstruction of a tooth I had feared is not necessary, and the new treatment is not required right away. The next appointment has been put off a few weeks, till a time when I won't be working.
We have several hundred tadpoles in our larger pond now and a cute pair of fledgling doves wandering about in the backyard. Unfortunately, the mutt has discovered the young birds and that she is faster than they are. Fran has managed to save them a few times from the canine so far, but I fear they'll be dead by the time I return from Mom's, on Sunday, 5/11.
5/18/03-Sun.-Have been quite busy since the last entry. The visit in Waco went well, particularly so for my stay with Horace and Leila and their kids. Even as I have major misgivings about how the combined interaction of Horace and Mom has and will affect my mother's (incredibly shrinking) nest egg, when I am together with he and his family I usually have a good time, particularly if I avoid certain sensitive subjects, such as personal finance, politics, and religion.
My jury duty obligation has been put off until 7/18, and then will entail only one day of availability for court service. So, it shouldn't affect my current work.
That temporary, full-time job began this past Thursday, 5/15, and so far has been more interesting than I had feared. All the other folks have at least a bachelor's degree and most, like me, a masters degree or better. They also seem to be a fairly well rounded bunch, with good senses of humor. So, it is a more stimulating and enjoyable social environment than, say, working as an entry-level food service employee for Target. The secondary school student papers we'll be grading also offer endless possibilities for quirky or amusing reading. If I need to be working, this should be at least a good short-term arrangement. All the more reason I'm now a little concerned to learn I still have one more battery of tests - at the end of our specialized training - to pass, to be able to retain this work after next week.
Mosquito season has begun in Austin. Though the critters are not particularly a nuisance as yet, thanks to our being in a drought, they are a hazard with which we must contend, so that we should avoid leaving doors open more than absolutely necessary, keep standing water near the house to a minimum, and so on. West Nile Virus is the main current health concern. Fran pointed out that, for crows, it is 100% fatal. The crows in our area thus are now like the proverbial canaries that used to be taken into the mines with men, as the diminutive singers would die from bad air before the humans, hopefully giving the latter a sporting chance to get out to more safely breathable gases. In this case, if the crows disappear from the Austin scene, we'll need to take rather unusual and even heroic measures to protect ourselves from further bites by the insect vampires.
There's a new abnormality on my nose. Am not quite ready to have that part of the anatomy extensively opened up for the third time in about a year and a half. On the other hand, is there anything at all I can do about it? So, it's "take it one day at a time" time again. The dermatologist is due to see me next in a couple months.
I've been reading an interesting article in the 4/03 issue of the magazine, "Natural History," on a time, 700 million years past in earth's history, when there was ice from pole to pole, virtually the entire globe as swaddled in frozen water as is Antarctica today. If the piece may be believed, that stark situation was followed after a few million years by terribly hot eons, and then by a cycle of alternating very cold and very warm periods. At some point in this exchange of extremes, higher forms of life, than just one-celled, evolved. Several hundred million years in our future, a "snowball earth" is likely to occur again. Of course, long before that frigid end to most all life on the planet, it seems all too possible our species will have met its end, probably as a result of changes we ourselves have created.
I'm not sure why such things fascinate me so. What do events and conditions so far in either the past or future have to do with me or anyone I know? Yet, they seem to give me a comforting sense of perspective.
Fran and I are with difficulty dealing with a variety of big and little stressors as we adjust to my returning to work, the new sleep schedule this necessitates (getting up about 6 AM instead of an hour or two later, while our normal bedtime now has become 1-2 AM), and the irritating day to day frustrations of the latest combination of health care or insurance restrictions and higher prices.
My better half and I have been through much more tension inducing stimuli than this over nearly eighteen years of matrimonial bliss, which bodes well, I suppose, for coping with these and future opportunities for skirmishing. But, in the meantime, sometimes the slightest thing can set us off.
The other morning we had the Great Quarters War. We've never gotten around to buying a washer and drier. We have considered it several times, but always decided we lacked sufficient resources to permit ourselves this luxury, Fran agreeing in this at least as much as I. Instead, we have acquired a large volume of undies, socks, casual wear, towels, and so on, and have managed by taking big piles of laundry to a coin-operated Laundromat about every three or four weeks, whether the clothes need cleaning by then or not!
Recently I have been putting my extra quarters, the denomination the laundry machines accept, into a separate, small plastic jar with a lid. As part of the preparations for this morning's laundry job, I was about to put this stash into the car with our clothes. But Frances reacted as though I were thus questioning her competence to manage the job herself, without any changes, interference, or "help" from me.
Realizing that perhaps somewhat more was really going on here than simply a reasonable issue of whether or not to have enough quarters for all eventualities, I backed off after only a few score words of grumbling. (I had simply been trying to give the benefit of my two-bits worth, but, with brilliant insight, no doubt due to all my graduate training as a counselor, I could see the matter was now as intense and complicated as that between hot Venus and cold Mars.)
And, though the plan had at first been that I'd join Fran in the trip to complete the chore, going for donuts to share once the piles were safely in the washers and beginning their cycles, I calmly accepted her assessment that it might be better if we did separate routines for the next couple hours.
How boring would it be if we did not at times have some such silliness intrude into our lives!? Perhaps, in this age and day, when folks do not require marriage for economic or security reasons in nearly the same way as was true in years gone by, we get thus locked in wed to assure an adequate supply of chaos, when otherwise there could be so much more predictable, orderly, simplified, and indeed dignified an existence. Who knows?
The Midwest and OK tornadoes have been quite newsworthy recently. There have been well over three hundred of them in the last couple weeks or so. Fifty years ago this month, there was a terrible tornado or series of them in my Mom's home town. The commemoration of that Waco horror was much in the local broadcasts while I was there this past weekend.
It inspired Mom to relate a couple incidents of which I'd not heard before. Her step-father (her biological father having abandoned the family during the Great Depression) turned out to have more sexual interest in the woman who would one day be my mother than in his new wife, her mom. Needless to say, after Mom was rescued from this situation (and from the family's starving and living just on the banks of a local creek, after the step-father had a heart attack and lost his tenant farmer work) by her paternal grandfather, the relations between she and the step-father, or his other relations, was minimal to nil. Nonetheless, he had set up his daughter in a tiny hovel of a poor house right next door to Mom's mother's tiny hovel of a place, both in one of the not so great sections of Waco. So the two extended families, having proximity and a few people in common, kept up with each other to some extent over the years.
The morning the tornadoes hit, Mom's step-father's daughter vehemently told her teenage sons, as they were leaving, to stay away from the pool hall, then a place associated with gambling, whoring, fights, and a criminal element. However, they did not heed this wise counsel and were in the pool hall and killed when the twisters, like the wrath of a vengeful god, utterly destroyed it.
A well liked lady in the neighborhood of both Mom's mother and her step-father's daughter was at home when a tornado sheared off one half of it, leaving the second section otherwise completely intact. Too poor to have her place repaired, the woman simply boarded up the missing side and lived in the remaining half-a-house for the rest of her days. A favorite porch rocker of hers disappeared in the storm, but was returned several days later by some boys who'd found it a few blocks away, undamaged but up in a tree, and had recognized it as hers.
Celestial phenomena are often quite neat accents to our otherwise mundane existences. Though clouds, and/or the haze of smoke from Central America's burning rainforests, obscured our view of the lunar eclipse that might have been visible here this past Thursday night, we did the following evening see the still nearly full moon, looking huge and orange near the horizon. I noticed this while on my evening walk and suggested Fran go take a look at this splendid orb.
Then, last night, Fran came and got me to go see a bank of distant clouds, up to about forty-five degrees off the horizon, in which lightning was leaping and flashing with such frenetic and fierce frequency it looked like an artillery barrage and seemed to glow with internal fire. I imagined a vast well-lit ocean liner slowly sliding past us in the night, its multiple decks perpetually ripped by explosions unleashed from unseen assailants of the murky deeps.
In the last couple or three days, my spouse and I have completed and put online the latest of our newsletter issues. This occupied us almost exclusively yesterday. Today, in another hour or so, it's Fran's turn to receive her long massage. The movie playing in the background for such ministrations this time will be "The Claim."
5/21/03-Wed.-My experience at work on my new temporary (and likely to be even more so than I'd realized, if one may judge by my exam results thus far this week) job in the last few days reminds me of the Hemingway novel, The Old Man and the Sea, which, if simply shortened to The Old Man at Sea, aptly describes my mental/emotional state of late.
It seems the battery of tests I took before being hired is not the end of the employment process. Tomorrow I get a new (assault and) battery, this time to assure I qualify to proceed to the next step, actually scoring the urchins' papers. Well, that's cool. I can understand not wanting to put folks fresh and green off the street or farm (or what-have-you) into the business of passing official judgment on the academic merits of secondary students, and so perhaps ruining them for life, without at least some minimal proof of the capacity to do so fairly and with competence. I just wish I had not bombed the pre-tests so badly.
By tomorrow night I'll know if a miracle has occurred and my brain, however belatedly, has rediscovered its function, or if I'm immediately back among the unemployed. Fran and I plan to hoop it up with a Moveable...er..."spiritual" Feast (i.e. a great dinner out, plus spirits for yours truly) if the gray matter finally kicks in, and I remain among the exam scorers tomorrow at this time. Otherwise, I think we'll lick my wounds and plan on doing something else nice for myself, perhaps a good massage...
5/22/03-Thurs.-Just back from my job, and I'm exhausted. I may not have passed with flying colors, but I did get through the qualification tests and am still working for Harcourt. In fact, we started grading today. It's just going to be an eight-hour grind, working at a computer screen all day, trying to speedily evaluate dozens or scores per day of mostly mediocre (scans of) student papers, with nobody free enough among my neighbors for much conversation, simply all doing our same digital work. But at least it's employment, and a sit-down job at that. So, I'll hang in there through the end of the project.
The stresses of adjusting to the new position, and then wondering if I were going to be fired almost immediately, have been rather nerve-wracking and sleep-depriving in the past few whirls of the world. Hope to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight and catch up some on missed snoozing.
Later. Fran and I celebrated in a low-key way my successfully getting through today's sets of exams by going out for delicious food and drink at the Tien Jin restaurant near us. Time to get ready for tomorrow, and then bed.
5/24/03-Sat.-I've been contemplating making love with my wife, yet feeling strange, like after an inefficient nap, such as is common on an uncomfortable, long trip.
Fran and I went earlier today for brunch to Buffet Palace on Anderson. It was good!
Subsequently I looked through the movie listings for any shows my nephew, Joel, and I might like to see together next weekend. The gulf between us, our generational and emotional alienation, seems depressingly huge. Whether rudely self-centered, sulking, or passively aggressive and controlling, he's not replied to my last few e-mails. I cannot call and confront him, even if so inclined, because he's almost deaf. But he often seems quite immature for someone in his late twenties. I had agreed to his recent suggestion of meeting for lunch and a movie, only then to have him fail to respond further about when and where, so that I feel idiotic for trying to be a good uncle. Yet I don't want to tell him that, since he cannot be bothered to communicate till it may suit his purposes, I'd now rather we didn't get together.
I made a hypothetical tracking portfolio this afternoon for my mom's holdings, from information she'd given about her remaining nest egg. But the extent of its depletion, mired as it is in a morass of poor advice and naive choices, and completely outside my capacity to rectify the wreckage of its derailment (for she does not listen, or is easily influenced by others who put self-interest ahead of what's best for her) adds to my angst. So this effort as well felt frustrating and pointless.
On television tonight, the ultimate in bleak dramas of meaningless, wasted lives, "Apocalypse Now."
My work brings up images of foreboding and estrangement too. Where it calls for repeated precision and decisiveness, I experience nuances and subjective uncertainty. From their writing samples, I find myself inside the heads of the innocent third-graders whose papers I'm scoring, enjoying their usually expressed hopefulness yet fearing that all too soon they'll be swept up in the common, shallow, banal mediocrity that seems now to govern so much of our culture.
This evening I worked on proofing my earlier journal, with entries from 1978, "Broken Branch... Chapter III." Was I actually ever so idealistic, and have I now, by contrast, become so cynical and burned out?
Guess I'm just "having a really bad hair day." Maybe tomorrow will be better. (If not, guess I'd better kill myself!)
Later.-Took the silly mutt on a walk in the dark neighborhood, followed by a cool bath, some light reading, and a meditation session. Was finally feeling better afterward. Whew! Perhaps my spouse and I shall find common ground between the sheets after all.
5/26/03-Mon.-Read The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Revised American Edition, by Greg Palast!
After the embarrassment of the Clinton administration and the shock of the 9/11/01 terrorism, the conservatives in this country have come to hold the reins of power as they never dreamed possible, dominating our press, the judiciary, Congress, the state houses, and, of course, the presidency with its many influential executive branch departments.
Such heady authority is bolstered as well by the vast wealth and influence of the U.S. corporate world. The "military industrial complex," of which Eisenhower warned, is alive and well.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party seems to have simply surrendered, ceding all serious responsibility for being a "loyal opposition." As Garrison Keillor musically and humorously spoofs, "We're all Republicans now."
Is there truth to the rumors widely circulated that House Republicans this year have twice introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which precludes a president serving for more than two terms?
Fiscal responsibility is a forgotten concept as we are running up more federal debt under George W. Bush's (likely eight years) leadership than in our prior two hundred years.
On this Memorial Day, I honor those who have served and died for our treasured freedoms, now greatly in jeopardy along with our nation's good credit, by being among the first to call for a new political party, one that can and will really challenge the Bush juggernaut and take up the liberal and moderate causes still loved by a few, hopefully in time to thwart George W.'s strategic planning for conservatives to control American government for at least the next thirty years!
Yesterday Fran and I were distressed to discover new vandalism on our property. At one edge, a chunk of our driveway concrete had been freshly gouged or hammered out and taken away. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fran and I had another major spat. When there's bad news, anger is a typical reaction, after which marital decorum may be among the first casualties.
Our drought continues, though we had some modest precipitation this morning.
On their separate (from mine) walk this AM, Fran and Pepper saw eight rabbits plus a wild turkey. The dog was thrilled.
My better half and I went out to eat at our favorite vittles place today, Bombay Grill. Mmm good!