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May, 2004: 3 6 8 9 10 18 24

5/3/04-Mon.- After getting to sleep as usual between 2-3 AM, I was up today at 7:15, thinking I heard the dog upchucking. It was a false alarm.

Fran got herself ready, fed Puff and let her do her business in the back, put the garbage out to be collected, and went off to visit with her friend, Sarah Reiner, with whom she plays duets for fun and practice about one morning a week now (when they're both in town).

In my more methodical way, I got myself ready to begin the day and then took Puff for a walk, before doing some varied shopping and a few other chores away from home.

At four months, the pooch is a little more civilized than before (going eighteen days straight, through yesterday, without an accident), but still is far from well trained with respect to biting (though less effective at it now that she's lost several milk teeth and has yet to receive their replacements), jumping, or barking. She also consistently fails to come, to stay, or to heel. Still, what progress she's made is certainly appreciated!

At times both Fran and I get exasperated with Puff, but while my spouse takes these upsets in stride and, overall, is very delighted with our current pet, often playing or cuddling with her or taking her picture, I've found this breaking-in phase more stressful and am not really so well bonded with the beast, occasionally resenting how much a distracting, enervating source of frustration she can be. Even I, though, like her more than not, and am just impatient that the more challenging aspects of her puppy-nature are soon behind us.

On our walks, unlike with anti-social Pepper, Puff seeks out or attracts a wide variety of short-term acquaintances, easily winning them over with her cute appearance and affectionate nature.

In her first couple months or so with us, I allowed myself the indulgence of taking fewer exercise walks, given that Puff was so monopolizing our hours and wasn't usually a good walking companion anyway. This and a bit of dietary laxness as well, eating a little more during this nerve-wracking "crisis" stage, have now had another unpleasant repercussion: Fran has started lightheartedly noting my "obesity."

Well, such a reference to my mass, admittedly in jest, exaggerates the case, for I'm actually only about five pounds overweight. I do not make similar, teasing references to Fran's gradual signs of older age. Mildly, I have an inner objection, then, that her remarks are unfair. No doubt I'm being overly sensitive.

But she has a point, in any case, for my added kilos seem to have been deposited almost entirely at the front of my waistline, the increased trunk thickness both subjectively and objectively observable, as previously comfortable slacks and jeans now seem tight. So, one way or another, some behavior modification is in order, and the extra inch or two of girth must go! While my current weight is 160 lbs, and my clothes should fit easily at 155, I'm aiming for 150 by 12/31/04 and hope to maintain it at that level thereafter.

We've been enjoying glorious weather lately, uncharacteristically so for the area at this time of year, when ordinarily we must endure humid, hot days and nights. Instead, recently we've had abundant rain at times plus relatively cool nights and days, averaging only about 55-75°(F).

In the past couple weeks, with the kind and able assistance of my better half, both in selection and alteration, I've acquired some new duds, wanting to be respectably attired for the upcoming several graduation or memorial ceremonies I'll be attending in the present and coming months. The sport coat thus purchased is my first in about twenty-five years. Several of the old ones either looked badly out of fashion or had moth holes. I donated them to Goodwill.

A few days ago I completed the transcribing of "Broken Branch, Fallen Leaf, Rippled Water VI," my journal record of the next several months in 1979, now online at the link.

Today is folksinger and activist, Pete Seeger's 85th birthday. I am proud to have been influenced by him in my youth. Back in the "Ban the Bomb" rally days and the Civil Rights Movement period of the very early 1960s, I was a social director at the University of Texas branch of the Wesley Foundation and helped arrange for Mr. Seeger to come give a quite well attended concert here in Austin, sponsored by our Youth Fellowship.

It was an interesting, meaningful time, before the ill-conceived, tragically flawed Vietnam War or the latest war with Iraq, a period when great strides were being made in positive, liberal causes and one could be proud to be involved in politics.

By contrast, today, of course, we are led by a messianic conservative extremist convinced he is fulfilling the will of God as he systematically trashes much good or decent that our country has stood for, while, in the name of a war on terrorism, imperialistically forcing his brand of "democracy" down the throats of millions whose cultures he understands and appreciates no more than he does our nation's precious rights and freedoms, now in jeopardy under his stewardship.

Al Qaeda must be ecstatic. It could not have hoped for any better rush toward America's downfall than that we are experiencing at the hands of George W. Bush.

As Frances says, our president is probably a terrorist mole, for guerrilla fighters on their own could hardly do as much damage to our country and its international prestige as he is doing, unchecked in his power and policies by either a restraining Congress or an independent judiciary.

But in this world when are we without a multitude of unfortunate circumstances? Better than letting them get us down, we may have recourse to the joys of abundant solitude and leisure, the kind that Henry David Thoreau had at his Walden Pond or that many a naturalist, artist, mathematician, writer, musician, scientist, or mystic have had in the experience of That Which Is or in fulfillment of a particular creative muse.

Be they so ever humble, it can at least be said they were not misguided military crusaders. For the most part, the world was not a worse place for their presence in it. With the ancient physicians, they have lived by a worthy maxim: "First, do no harm." Following in their paths we do not find our steps stained by "collateral" bloodshed.

5/6/04-Thurs.-Have stopped in Georgetown for a snack breakfast. Am on the way to an honors banquet at Oklahoma City University (OCU) where my nephew, Jim, among others, is to receive recognition tomorrow evening, and to attend his graduation ceremonies on Saturday. Jim says he doesn't care much about these events, though he's proud of what he accomplished. He's going to them mainly for others' benefit. I felt the same way when I was much younger, but didn't do nearly so well as he in my undergrad studies. Jim, like my other nephew graduating this month, Joel, finished Summa Cum Laude.

Admitted to grad school on my GRE score and a few good recommendations, rather than my academic history, I got all A's in a two-year masters program, but had finished my first four years of college work in fits and starts, dropping out several times and ending with about a C+/B- overall average eleven years after I began! I was a mess for the first decade or so after high school. It's good that existence sometimes gives us second, third, and even fourth chances.

I invited Fran along to both Jim and Joel's commencements, but she wasn't interested and felt no pull to attend just for form's sake or because it was "politically correct." Ironically, if I had a better, ongoing relationship with either of these young men (as I'd hoped to have when we were all somewhat younger), I probably would not take the trouble of going to their ceremonies either. It's a lot of trouble for little personal gain, but, under the circumstances, seems the right thing to do. And my presence will likely mean much to my mom. My absence would probably be quite noticeable to Joel, defensive over past hurts and slights, for neither his immediate family nor his extended one have always been there for him when he needed them to be, particularly poignant in view of his severe hearing impairment.

Later.-My mom is eighty-one years old and medicates herself to sleep most every night with three to five stiff drinks. Why, then, am I surprised when things don't work right in her house? Tonight, for instance, the air conditioner will not cool, the heater doesn't provide enough warm water for a good bath, and the computer is down. But why bother with such inconveniences when, with a few more ounces of booze, all one's cares float away?

Rather, the wonder is that, in spite of both age and alcoholism, Mother continues to drive independently, serve admirably in various community service functions, have an enthusiastic following as a water aerobics instructor, and coordinate a number of constructive family activities each year. She is a contradictory and complicated force of nature.

Meanwhile, though, after a cool bath and then with windows open and the fan going full tilt, I'm still uncomfortably warm. At close to midnight, the thermostat registers 80°(F). May as well read a good book while sleep eludes: The Corpse on the Dike, by Janwillem van de Wetering.

And, anyway, I mustn't exaggerate my "troubles." One day, perhaps sooner than later, terrorists may knock out our nation's electric power for six months or so, and then won't these present bothers seem silly!? It's entirely feasible, this or much worse, and would wreak havoc with our quality of life. How long could the average household go without gasoline pumps that work, electricity, computers, banks, or readily available food and water? How long before our society breaks down?

5/8/04-Sat.-It's about 6 PM. Mom and I are sitting in a relatively cool part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, roughly half-way through a four-hour layover before the final leg of the return trip to Waco. A thunderstorm is passing through the area and has slowed both take-offs and landings for awhile. We have the front row in a waiting section that faces the flight lines.

The weekend has been tiring but otherwise has gone quite well so far. Jim received a couple major recognitions at the banquet last night. A third one inadvertently was omitted. He is now a member of a music honor society and completed his four-year degree with a better than 4.0 average (thanks to several A+ grades and advanced courses, that count for more). He was also during this period a member of the University Singers, won first place in the nation in a tap dance competition, and was an extremely active participant in and teacher of swing dancing.

Jim said he's hoping to be obsessively focused on his music composition masters program at Juilliard, beginning the latter part of August, less distracted by extracurricular activities than as an undergrad.

In chatting, meanwhile, with Mary, I learned she's now involved in helping a couple friends get their books ready for publication, finding this volunteer effort highly rewarding.

Jim, though seldom sharing his feelings, was appreciative of our going up to his ceremonies, both to the awards dinner last night and the commencement earlier today.

Mary, up early, provided me with great room service for breakfast this morning, and with essential "taxi" driving (hither and yon in Oklahoma City) for me and Mom this past couple days. It was particularly neat to get a brief tour of the OCU campus that has been home for Jim the better part of four years.

Yesterday, he and Mary, at his suggestion, also took Mom and me from the airport to Gabriella's, where Jim had worked (as a waiter) one summer, getting "into" the gourmet ways of preparing vittles they have there to the extent of learning several of the dishes, some of which he had later prepared for his mother. Mary bought Mom's meal, a Mother's (Mother-in-Law's) Day weekend gift.

This is turning out to be a quite hectic time, and on too little rest. However, had we driven to and from Oklahoma City instead of flying, that doubtless would have been even more the case.

A week or so ago, Jim organized and directed his senior recital, a performance of four or five original compositions by thirty to forty musicians. The last forty-eight hours of this effort were particularly frenetic, with last minute fiascos such as his piano accompanist getting ill and canceling the morning of the performance. Meanwhile, Jim had numerous critical interruptions of his concentration and was called away for other last-minute priorities. Nonetheless, he pulled it off.

About 11 PM tonight, I called Fran, and we had a good chat for a half-hour or so. I miss both she and Puff.

5/9/04-Sun.-Mother's Day-Although back at Mom's from the Jim graduation trip by rather late yesterday, I stayed on at her place an extra day in view of the holiday. She and I do not - and probably will never - get along swimmingly, and when tired, as we are now after a wearisome weekend spent mostly together, the strain is more than usually pronounced. The AC not working and her excessive reliance on alcohol each evening have not helped matters. Mother's Day or not, we were essentially alone, despite Mom's having had eight kids. It seems others are not that comfortable spending much time with her either.

Of course, I'm no more the perfect son than she's the ideal Mom. Nonetheless, I did what I could to help her day be pleasant. We enjoyed breakfast together. Later, I took her to Barnes and Noble for a special book purchase and then out to eat at a nice Italian restaurant. And we saw the interesting, entertaining Tim Robbins movie, "Cradle Will Rock."

Meanwhile, all the recent walking with carry-on baggage through security, between flights, and during the layovers took a toll. This morning I woke up with a new exacerbation of my plantar fasciitis, the worst such since it first bothered me over a year and a half ago. I'm afraid I'll have to go back to taping the foot, avoiding walking, and perhaps having another series of expensive medical specialist appointments.

Late this evening, after Mom had gone to bed, I watched several quite neat dinosaur programs on Discovery Channel. The computer animation and well researched stories appeared so realistic it was as if a film crew had actually been there.

Unfortunately, I took a walk for exercise this morning before realizing the pain in my left foot was from a fresh tendon injury, aggravating it further so that, despite anti-inflammatory pain meds, the sole is now quite sensitive. Saw a rabbit, squirrels, and cardinals while on that hike though.

5/10/04-Mon.-Am back in Georgetown, taking a break on my return drive to Austin.

The sore foot is perhaps slightly less painful than yesterday. Good! I'm probably still facing a minimum of three to four weeks of severely curtailed exercise before the worst of the new tearing has begun to heal, and I dare not risk additional injury in this period. Even after that, walking, push-ups, and use of the exercise bike will have to be restricted for a rather long time. The podiatrist had warned it can take one to two years for the condition to fully mend. In view of the intention to reduce my weight to 150 pounds, enjoy activities in IL and WI next month, and hike in Yellowstone in September, this difficulty has come at a bad time.

Today is the ten-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela's inaugural address. During the apartheid days in South Africa, this former freedom campaigner, and future first black president of his country plus Nobel prize winner, was imprisoned for twenty-seven years, eighteen in solitary confinement. He was an old man, yet in relatively good health, when finally released in 1990. In his tiny cell each morning he would put himself through an hour of vigorous exercise. If, despite his circumstances, Mandela could maintain such a regimen, surely I can keep myself fit even though needing to protect a bum foot till fully restored.

5/18/04-Tues.-We completed another issue of our newsletter last night, at close to 2 AM, then got up a little after 7:00 this morning. Fran took the dog off for a walk. I got ready and took a shorter, 'round the block, constitutional, as yet careful about my sore left foot. It's getting better, though. I think this evening I'll attempt to mow the front yard, or at least half of it, but more slowly than usual.

Puff disappointed us on Saturday. When some of my relatives stopped by at our place, so we could carpool while going down to San Marcos for Joel's graduation, and Allen and Nina's baby, Sharon, now eight months old, grabbed the dog's whiskers, Puff got so excited she peed. Fran had been holding her, so she got anointed. This was the beast's first accident in over a month. Till then we'd been so pleased to think she was now, surely, at last housebroken. Oh well.

My mom had come down for the occasion, and, indeed, it was her van we were going in the rest of the way to San Marcos. By coincidence, she'd had what she called a "blowout" on the way down from Waco. This sounded like a dangerous vehicle mishap, but it turned out she meant she'd had an accident of another kind (further details I did not want to know!) and had to dispose of her pantyhose, then sit around "naked" under her suit for the next several hours, till back home in Waco that evening. She'd had no change of underwear along. Who does?

Allen had driven Mom's van from Waco to Austin but hadn't taken his anti-allergy medication and was sneezing, dripping, blowing, slurping, and snorting so badly it was distracting him from controlling the car safely on the highway. Thus he was glad for me to take over for the next leg of their journey.

I took us on to Southwest Texas University, but then drove us around town till we found a Taco Bell, so Nina could fill up on junk food, an apparently dire necessity, before she would consent to our going on to the graduation location. The lass has an earth mother appearance and certainly does not look malnourished, but perhaps she's preparing for the lean times or famines ahead. She rationalizes the compulsion to consume vast quantities by pointing out she's still nursing Sharon. Of course, she's already decided on getting pregnant again right after Sharon's mammary gland feedings end, and then will be "eating for two." Interestingly, Allen seems to eat less with each mouthful Nina stuffs in, as if to average their eating habits out at a more reasonable level of caloric intake.

Following the lengthy afternoon commencement rites, Joel managed to get all his friend and family fans together, despite the huge, athletic center coliseum setting. We gathered at one corner of the structure, greeting each other effusively, congratulating Joel over and over, taking a zillion pictures (with every combination of subject), and getting hot enough for even Mom, minus one layer, to become overheated.

Next we headed off across the huge, chaotic parking area, full of cars in Brownian motion, for our own transportation and joined the congested bumper-cars throng for a mile or two till reaching our new destination, Logan's Roadhouse, where there were more rounds of congratulations, plus toasting and gifts, for Joel, and another quadrillion photos snapped.

When we arrived at the restaurant lot, I misjudged the space needed for Mom's van and came within an inch or two of colliding with an expensive parked car, only avoiding it because of yells from Joel and Allen who were sitting on the opposite side, with a better view of the dwindling clearance.

For the return trip, Mom elected to head straight home without further detours, no doubt intent on a bath and change of clothes, and so asked Ron to drive me home, which was sort of on his way. Once we were there, his girls, Esther and Jane, wanted to see our dog (their first close encounter of the Puff kind). She was just as hyper and incorrigibly uncontrolled as during the tête-à-tête with Sharon that morning, leaping about like an idiot, in spite of Fran's best efforts to restrain her with a leash. Fortunately, this time the meeting took place outside.

Meanwhile, Ron walked around our backyard, admiring the luxuriant growth in or near our ponds and saying he and his partner, Claudia, envied what we'd done (mostly Fran's doing) with our landscaping.

He said he'd dug a big hole for a pond but that the water just drained out of it within a few days. When he tried to put in plastic liners, they had developed a large bubble at the bottom, and so far he'd not managed to get rid of it.

As he and our nieces were leaving, they saw an injured bird, a fledgling grackle, that had apparently fallen from its nest and was cheeping its anxiety in the front yard. The parents fretfully swooped at and scolded us from above. Esther and Jane wanted to rescue the hapless youngster, but Ron wisely discouraged them, and they all left. I checked on the unfortunate "chick." It was already very weak, though, beyond any practical aid. It died only a few hours later.

I did some errands this afternoon and stopped for coffee at HEB. While sipping I was struck by how many of the male patrons had tattoos. For awhile, every other fellow passing by had at least one, many of them sporting several. Indelibly decorating one's body seems a strange thing for people to do in this age, a still rather tribal behavior, even as we're exploring far distant vistas of space, other planets, the origins of the universe, the secrets of life, the tiniest particles of matter, medical marvels, possible extra dimensions, and intriguing aspects of our human potential in the new millennium.

Yet, we have only to look at the obscenities occurring in Iraq to realize anew that we are far from being a very advanced species. And tattoos, after all, are a much more benign form of self-expression.

"What a piece of work is man! (from "Hamlet," by William Shakespeare)"

5/24/04-Mon.-During this past weekend, I was thinking about the part my thumbs have played in my life. For some odd reason, they've been a factor in more mishaps than most portions of my anatomy. A variety of injuries and accidents, from infected dog bites (one thumb), to being caught inside a closed car door (the other), being badly sliced by an army fan blade (while I was on KP), suffering a sports fracture, and so forth, have involved my thumbs multiple times through the years.

Besides my being affected by these and similar incidents, there was the fact that as a parent my father had a steep learning curve with his firstborn. His disciplinary methods were often dramatic, certainly effective. If an infraction occurred at dinner time, perhaps eating with the mouth open, speaking when he was talking, passing food to the right when he'd wanted it going to the left, or simply having one's hand on the table when he felt it ought to be elsewhere, a swift downward smash of his fist upon the recalcitrant child's nearest body part provided a lesson not soon forgotten. Likely as not, when this occurred one or the other of my thumbs, being slightly bigger than the fingers, took much of the impact.

Then there was a time in my youth when, finding myself "carless" in California (on a previous journey having had to abandon my VW bug in the Arizona mountains), I took it into my head to hitchhike down the coast. Thumb and arm held high and a light duffel bag over the opposite shoulder, I stood near the pavement in the San Francisco dunes, 'twixt ocean surf and scenic Highway 1, waiting for my cool Jack Kerouac "on the road" fate to materialize.

Sure enough, a nice looking lady a few years older than I soon stopped and offered me a lift. But, in an ironic turnaround of the typical movies' version of such encounters, she had a wayward husband (or so she said) and was interested in "getting it on" with me, while all I, young and naive, cared about was getting on farther south. She showed her dissatisfaction by dropping me in a desolate area through which few cars ever passed. I was red with sunburn by the time I got my next ride.

As luck would have it, though, those folks were going to Big Sur, my own original destination. Yet they were seeking to share booze and pot and have a big party on the beach, while I, inexperienced about those pleasures as well, was leery of what most in my position might have considered good fortune and simply asked to be let out once we got to a park near Monterey. There, however, the isolation I'd chosen got to me. I began to feel lonely and depressed.

A drenching cloudburst several hours later completed my misery. I gathered my things and trudged back to the highway, standing on the shoulder in the dark amid seeming bucketfuls of pouring water before, just as dawn was lightening the sky, being picked up by a crazy couple drinking Coke and lighter fluid cocktails.

And so it went. By some miracle, I got home to my apartment a little over twenty-four hours after I'd set off, vowing to never, ever lift my thumb to catch a ride again.

I wish I knew how much of sexual disappointment has to do with this vs. that. I do know we tend to make too much of the occasional lapse in ideal harmony regarding our most intimate relations. Fran is probably wiser in this regard than I and surely would never write in a diary any reference to unconsummated sex. Still, this journal is to be an honest ledger of both the stuff that happens and my thoughts or feelings about it.

Last night I was rather horny by mid-evening. It was not till close to four hours later, however, that Fran was through with her shower plus her teeth brushing and ready to go to bed. She'd also been, in the meantime, somewhat distracted by other, more practical considerations, including something she was working on with her laptop, a couple neighbor cats' destruction of part of one of her gardens, Puff needing to go out and take a whiz, and so on. So, while Fran was willing, she had not seemed more than clinically interested when I'd indicated an amorous intent.

In bed, she also seemed not really "into it," and then I quickly lost interest as well. Perhaps she'd just been waiting for more foreplay to show greater desire herself. But, once my arousal ceased, she indicated we must be tired and that it was already late, so she was ready to go to sleep, which she soon did.

For me, though, things had not gone at all well. I wish I could plug the variables into a formula or an Excel spreadsheet, as can be done with stocks one is considering for purchase, and thus arrive at the best solution or the right candidate answers for why the undesired outcome happens, so we hopefully could be sure it is not repeated.

Is it merely a matter of age, now that I am sixty? Yet when I was about twenty-five years younger the same result developed once, after a very stimulating evening with a nude lady who kept me excited for several hours, then indicated she was not ready for us to make love after all (one of those situations in which the man wonders if the woman secretly wants to be raped!), but then, too late, changed her mind. It was as if, in my lack of function under these circumstances, at some point the libido, frustrated with no release despite plenty of earlier preparation for coitus, just shut down in a fit of pique.

Nor now does it seem to always work for us if I simply let Fran know when I'm feeling really turned on and wish us to "do it" right then, for this intrusion of passion often does not fit with her agenda. She wishes instead to stay asleep, for instance, at 3:30 AM. Or she prefers to first finish a smelly composting project and get herself cleaned up. Go figure!

Whatever. If the future follows the pattern of the past, once the anomalous incident has been put behind us and we go on with our normal lives, Frances and I shall have much more physical pleasure together.

As so often true before, this is perhaps an opportunity to benefit from my doing more meditation. Of course, if I increased meditation as much as would seem appropriate for each of the different concerns or stressors in life, I'd likely be meditating half the time. Hmm. Come to think of it, maybe that's not a bad idea.

Later. On the other hand, Frances and I discussed the matter this evening and put it better in perspective. Women just have to determine whether or not they are "in the mood." Men have all these extra "performance" issues. No wonder we live several years less than the ladies (smile)! In any case, we looked at it statistically. The kind of outcome we had with our lovemaking last night occurs for us "almost never," according to Fran, and about 1% vs. 4% of the time (averaged over the last five years vs. one year, respectively), as best I can estimate. Maybe - though clearly I did - that's just not enough for us to worry about it.

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