5/1/05-Sun.-Have stopped for lunch, about an hour into a drive up to my mom's place. Thursday morning she was hurrying to prepare a barbequed entree to serve several at one of her charity luncheons when she somehow slipped while carrying a big pan of food fresh off the stove, struck both her hip and head sharply as she fell, and jammed her right foot quite hard into the wall as she came to rest. Instantly she was in great pain but, perhaps mildly concussed, interpreted it as from the blow to her head or hip. She lay there a bit amid the spilled vittles before trying to get up and realizing the most pain was coming from her right ankle. Her cleaning lady comes only twice a month, but showed up while she was dazed, painfully doing an inventory of her hurts, and helped her get up. However, Mom refused to consider the woman's suggestion of medical attention. Optimistically thinking her ankle, the most symptomatic part, was just sprained, and maybe confused from the head blow, she carried on with her activities, managed to finish getting the entre fixed again, delivered it where the luncheon was being held, did a few other chores. Only then, several hours after the accident, her ankle by now significantly swollen, and as she was still in significant pain, Mom drove herself over to an emergency room to have the injured joint examined. About mid-afternoon, she was diagnosed as having a severely fractured right ankle, the same joint she'd used for all the driving use of the gas pedal, the break completely through the back lower leg bone and partially through the front one. A rigid cast was applied. A call was placed to my brother, Horace, just before he was due to go see a client 20 miles away as it turned out, and he picked her up from the hospital instead. The next day his family also returned the van to her house from the hospital.
5/2/05-Mon.-Arrived at Mom's place yesterday without any difficulties on the trip. Joel, Ron, and Jane were also there. Mom was not at all happy, and often in quite a lot of pain when making transfers in and out of her wheelchair. In my view, she was taking a great deal more risk than appropriate, for instance going from bed or chair to wheelchair without help and without locking the chair's wheels, sometimes even hopping on her good foot to get across a room. As usual, she was quite independent and disinclined to follow my ironically "old womanish" advice on more caution, lest she have another fall or make the current injury worse.
Nonetheless, overall things were in reasonably good shape at her house. In addition to having taken care of her meals and kitchen cleanups, Ron and Joel unpacked and installed some decorative borders on two sides of the big AC compressor units for her.
Then Ron and I had another session of my interviewing him about his life, for stories to put in our newsletter, leading up to his 50th birthday. I was disappointed with how much, all these years later, he still dwells on a couple concussion injuries he received in childhood. He may, indeed, have had some mild gray matter damage from one or both incidents, but I have the impression that since then he has tended to excuse or rationalize many of his impulsive, less than fortunate decisions or behaviors as due to the old brain injuries, rather than taking more responsibility and being extra careful to be sure it is wise, before going in some new, often bizarre or immature direction. Maybe I am too harsh.
Joel stayed on Mom's computer for 2-3 hours after I arrived and before he left about 6 PM. Even if he had wanted to be available to help Mom, it would have been very hard for her to get his attention, since she could not readily go to him and he has so severe a hearing impairment that he could not tell if she were calling him while he was facing the computer. From what she says, it seems he stayed at the terminal most of the time while he was there alone with her as well. Oh well. He and Ron headed out by late afternoon. Then Mom and I would be on our own together through most of the time till the morning of 5/4.
5/4/05-Wed.-Got back from Waco today, tired, but pleased that things went relatively well at Mom's place. Besides looking after her mobility at the house and fielding numerous calls, I took her to her doctor appointment on Monday, where she got a rigid but adjustable walking cast, took her to the library and checked out four new books for her, picked us up some chicken and side orders once, did her weekly grocery shopping, did the laundry, fixed her meals, did the dishes, met with her and three of her friends who stopped by for chats and to bring good meals, twice picked up medication for her, got her a walker, bought and installed a raised toilet fixture, returned some video tapes, took care of the garbage collection and taking it out for pickup, watered her potted plants, discussed politics and literature with her, watched some entertaining video movies in her company, etc. At night, I left the bedroom doors open so I could tell if she needed any help.
In spite of her having a great deal of pain and tending to drink way too much alcohol each evening, by the time I left, she was far more optimistic and independent than when I arrived.
5/5/05-Thurs.-It was great getting home yesterday. Fran, Puff, and I were all glad to see and pet one another.
I was feeling exhausted early today, but had a nap and then enjoyed much more energy. I took my car in to Wal-Mart for some servicing, did shopping there, went for coupons discounted lunch with Fran to Long John Silver's (boy, what a lot of grease!), researched and prepared a new Investor's Journal entry, recorded and then watched a TV business program, took the dog on our evening walk, unpacked from my trip, played some chess with an online opponent, answered a few e-mails, and coordinated home health assistance coverage for my mom over the next several days (calling for relatives to be there through at least early next Tuesday, then my shift to begin again).
Am reading a well written, rather shocking book on global warming, Boiling Point, by Ross Gelbspan.
5/8/05-Sun. (Mother's Day)-I found a female tarantula the other morning during a walk, went back home for a jar with a lid, returned to the spider's location (finding her within a couple feet of where I'd first spotted her), easily got her undamaged into the jar, and took her to the house for Fran (ever the amateur nature photographer - and pretty good at it too!) to capture in digital images. It was the first tarantula either of us had seen in South Austin.
In the Boiling Point book, the author says there is now a global migration going on, with all the animals and plants heading for the poles, seeking a new stasis with which they are more familiar and comfortable, now that the average worldwide temperature is higher. The migration is occurring by air, land, and sea. Frances mentions that there is also an elevation aspect to it, the various species tending toward higher elevations for the same reason.
Along with the migration, warming, and elevation factors, there is not merely an extinction issue, with millions of species either becoming endangered or ceasing to exist, but also a habitat loss issue, with reasonable estimates now for a third to half of the world's total habitats projected to be destroyed by the end of the century, including over 70% in both Canada and Russia and at least 30% in the US.
So, it should not surprise us that new (to our area) species, like my captured tarantula, should be passing through or that Austin's traditionally semi-arid climate may be changing. Innocuous or even pleasant as these occurrences may be, in the long-run the impact of global warming is likely to be horrendous and terribly destructive, for humans in particular and the biosphere in general.
After Fran had taken several pictures, we let the spider go in a nearby overgrown drainage ditch, a wide and long expanse of thick vegetation with abundant small insect food for a feisty two-thirds grown female tarantula that may live for another generation and mate with twenty or more males, each destined to die in only a year or less.
Today, though, following a period of fairly dry weather, we've had a succession of thunderstorms, and I noticed that where I'd released the tarantula there was this morning a foot or two of flowing water. Hope she is still okay.
Here in Texas, it seems the movement of species toward the poles is not limited to the plants or wildlife. I remember a friend having moved in the 1980s to Mexico where her money went a lot farther and she could hire two or three servants to cook for her, look after her yard and gardens, and clean house.
Now, just 20-30 years later, thanks to legal and illegal immigration and the movement north of Mexican alien workers, my mother, who lives even about 100 miles farther from the border than Austin, and who already has recently been relying on low-cost help from Mexican-Americans with her cleaning and yard care, has just hired a Mexican-American lady home health care nurse at only $10 an hour to stay with her as she recuperates from her ankle injuries. The lady comes with several good references and says she will cook for Mom and help her with dressing, bathing, shopping, going for appointments, etc.
As recently as 1990, when my sister-in-law, Mary, in Houston, was trying to find help of that kind to assist her with looking after my brother, Ralph, dying of a brain tumor, the costs were prohibitive. But now Mom will have such assistance for no more than if she had long-term health care insurance coverage (which she does not).
I realize, of course, that the immigration of Latin American peoples into the US is a far more complex issue than that of spiders expanding their territories in a more northerly direction as the temperature rises. It is mainly, I am sure, just an interesting coincidence of unrelated phenomena.
In our family, my mom is not the only example of this "northward ho!" acculturation going on before our eyes. A number of years ago, my brother, Ron, married a beautiful, smart Mexican-American lady, and, even if that relationship did not last, I now have two lovely Mexican-American nieces as a result of their union. Two years ago, my brother Allen married a Black woman from Ecuador, who provided him an endearing daughter and is pregnant now with a second child. My mom, who has throughout her life been prejudiced against other than white Anglo Protestants, just dotes on these grandkids and is very affectionate toward their mothers. My brother, Ernie, has had so many Mexican-Americans, often illegally in this country, working for him that he has acquired a functional knowledge of Spanish, without ever having taken the language in formal classes. And now my brother, Pete, has been going to Brazil to check out the women and is thinking of marrying one of them he met there last December. While I cannot say I'm optimistic about such a joining, feeling sorry for the woman who would marry Pete unless he matures quickly, at least from my brother's way of looking at it, the motivation of folks from the south to head farther north, for whatever reason, is, as Martha Stewart might say, a good thing.
So, whether environmental, cultural, economic, political, or social, while there are big changes in the offing, they are not all ones each of us would consider negative.
I slept late this morning, then took the dog on a walk in the rain about 10 AM. We passed a couple small children who watched our progress down their block from a covered porch. As we approached, a little girl with a concerned look shouted to me: "Your dog's getting wet!" (I had an umbrella, but she did not. The girl did not know that Puff is a water dog and, even in the middle of winter, loves to jump into and submerge herself in creeks and ponds, but I agreed with the cute urchin that Puff needed her own umbrella.)
Frances and I are having what hopefully will turn out to be a couple minor conflicts over priorities or preferences. Since before we retired, about 3-4 years ago, I have been assuming we'd be moving on to a better location for the bulk of our leisure years, for we do not care for how Hades hot it gets here, nor for the frenetic and congested traffic conditions at times or our declining neighborhood, our cheaply constructed older house, that now is beginning to need ongoing maintenance, or the lack of as much geographical diversity within easy driving as one might find in, say, Washington State, New York, Oregon, and so on.
At first, Fran herself was quite adverse to staying in Austin, much more so than I in fact. At that time, it was I who was reasonably arguing for our remaining here a few more years, till our situation had become more secure, before starting afresh elsewhere. Now the tables are completely turned, and it is she who wants to remain here indefinitely, while I am chomping at the bit to be hitting the road, not immediately, but within the next couple years or so.
On the other hand, I realize she is beginning to have things the way she wants them here, with several friends she sees regularly, more performing gigs (which she really enjoys) than she had when working essentially full-time (during the long school terms of private music teaching), a comfortable routine, and so on. Also, whenever we go, it will be a lot of work getting our place ready to sell, dealing with the real estate hassles, packing, moving, finding a rental place at our destination, eventually buying in the new area, and so forth. She would rather not even think about such things as long as there seems, from her perspective, no urgency to do so.
So, partly I understand her point of view and, just as once she put up with my feeling we ought to stick it out in Austin till our financial circumstances had improved, so now I am somewhat disposed toward what she wants this time, even though I am finding more desire building that we start the ball rolling at least for the big transition, now that those circumstances are in better shape.
Even if I am willing to put my own expectations on hold for awhile with respect to the move we'd planned after retiring, though, I am aware of getting older all the time, and that one day I'll not be as able to carry out a major transition or to enjoy the new location once we are established there. At times I feel strongly enough about it I think this issue alone could end our relationship. At others, though, I get more (and hopefully better) perspective and see it as not so huge a deal, especially compared with issues facing many folks who have no choice about where they are living.
Of somewhat more immediate concern are the ways we spend our free time, now that we are all but fully retired (in every way except for Fran's rather part-time music work or if I consider the management of our assets as a vocation). She has developed a set of friends, mostly folks who have no relationship with me, through her music or gardening and related activities. And she likes going off by herself for visits with her mom, her sister and her family, etc. Often as not, I am not even invited on these get-togethers with friends or on her trips. While I can see how the occasional such journey without me might be appropriate and reasonable, she tends to use vacations as a way of doing things that exclude the marital relationship rather than enhancing it. Yet when I suggest vacations for the two of us instead, there are almost always reasons found that they should be put off. In the several years since we retired we have thus not gone on a single longer vacation together. (Trips we more or less "had" to make in connection with her dad's memorial, up in IL, or to return a visit from her sister and her kids, after Trudy had come to see us a year earlier, do not count.)
I don't know how these matters will be resolved. When I bring them up for discussion, she tends to dismiss them with casual remarks. To my view, she enjoys being with her relations and friends more than with me, as confirmed by her behavior if not her words. At the very least, she likes being with them on her own in the secure knowledge she can always go back to me. If we are, however, becoming more estranged, I can certainly see how this might be. After all, we have differences in age, talent, hobbies, personality, and so on. Looked at that way, the wonder is that we get along as well as we do.
But her complacency in the face of my increasing feeling that it is high time we did more fun trips together, especially if we are not going to be moving anytime soon as we'd earlier been planning for so long, is becoming more exasperating and creating more tension between us. Should we go for high-priced counseling about this, and perhaps a few other issues, or just continue to try to sweep them under the rug, suppressing resentments? I have no answer right now, and I believe Fran would rather not even think about such things or else attempt to paint me as being unreasonable if I do.
I am not interested in our separating or getting a divorce. In most respects, I like being married to Frances. Yet, there are legitimate issues developing between us with which it seems we must deal better than we have till now.
5/12/05-Thurs.-Around 6:30-6:45, the merest hint of dawn's light creeping across the sky, Puff decided it was time we got up, positioned herself between Fran's and my heads, and began alternately reacquainting each of us with her fuzzy affection. Although it was a benign, even pleasant, way to be awakened, far less traumatic than a loud cock's crowing or a clock's insistent, noisy alarm, it was still, for someone who'd only gotten to sleep four hours before, very early.
Nonetheless, Frances and I both arose and began our daily routines, including, not insignificantly, feeding the pooch (after which, shameless creature, she curled up on the bed and went back to sleep while awaiting the next phase of our morning agenda, a walk).
Fran (who can ready herself each morning in only 5-10 minutes) went off to do some volunteer work while I fixed and sipped coffee, wet down and combed my hair, got dressed, checked e-mails (had just lost an online chess game - sigh!), and so on... Then, I took the beast on our walk, did my teeth, fixed and ate a healthy breakfast, planned the major priorities of the day, listened to the NPR's "Morning Edition" news (almost none of it good), trimmed fingernails, put Puff in her kennel, drove over and deposited a check at the bank, did grocery shopping, forgot to get badly needed gasoline in the car (probably because so tired), returned home, "rescued" Puff from her kennel, put away groceries and such, played with the dog, researched an investment essay for our family newsletter, answered e-mails, and read several pages in my current mystery. By then Fran had returned, and it was time for lunch.
The book is by Philip Kerr and is called March Violets. It's pretty good. This is in the genre (which Kerr may have invented, for all I know) of wartime private investigators or detectives who are constantly running afoul of their civil and military authorities, who are busy being corrupt and/or exceeding their legitimate powers, while the competent, conscientious, shrewd, professional protagonist, usually rather jaded and cynical, goes on as best he can just doing his job, to the immense satisfaction of the reader.
Besides some of the Philip Kerr works, the two popular "Foyle's War" series are along the same lines, as is a book I read a few years ago, the name escaping me, in which a British murder investigator carries out his duties despite interesting permutations consequent to working in 1941 under a German occupation, following the successful invasion of England by the Third Reich. Oh yes, it's SS/GB by Len Deighton*, another I can recommend. (*Thanks, Google!)
5/16/05-Mon.-Restless last night, I do remember having had a dream, at least a brief dream sequence, in which it is night, I'm alone in my car, driving down a two-lane road at a high rate of speed. There are street lights, so that the area is reasonably bright. There is little if any other traffic at first, so I'm isolated, though I do not feel badly about this, actually preferring to travel this way while the lives of so many others go on apart from me, most of them asleep. I seem to be going through the outskirts of an urban area, perhaps an industrial district. Suddenly I'm aware of a car in my lane, just ahead, way too close and going more slowly than I. Where did it come from!? I slam on the brakes, but they don't respond at all. A collision is now unavoidable and I'm bracing for it when I wake up, quite relieved to discover it was only a dream.
Free associating on the dream description, I note that, per Jung, all aspects of a dream represent the dreamer. In this case: reasonably bright, alone, isolated, preferring to travel, not feeling badly, aware, slamming on the brakes, they don't respond at all, collision unavoidable, & bracing for it.
Most of the first words (reasonably bright, alone, isolated, not feeling badly, aware) register (grok) and may be fairly apt, but I can so far make nothing of the latter ones. Nor is there any real lesson or significance for me in the early phrases.
It's tempting to try to find a Freudian, or at least sexual, meaning, since that is so classic an interpretation approach, but here this does not feel like an authentic meaning, only a convenient, contrived one. And, anyway, what would be the libidinal equivalent for slamming on the brakes or inevitable collision? (Trying unsuccessfully to avoid an ejaculation? Lately, by contrast, the "not respond at all" could refer to a lack of interest in sex [related to aging? lack of sleep? depression?], paradoxically so, as I'll frequently awaken feeling aroused, though not this time. I remember well from the dating scene that a woman seeking to restrain too much ardor could be said to be putting on the brakes. Hmm.)
As for preferring to travel, I've been dwelling a bit lately on adding a small amount of adventure through taking trips, wanting to do so with Fran, but considering, if she were unavailable, maybe just setting off on my own, as I did to Yellowstone last year.
On that vacation, I was often feeling lonely, wishing for companionship, someone with whom to share the experience. But, once I sort of got into it, I began to enjoy several aspects, perhaps in some cases even more so because they were all completely private moments, with none of the distraction inevitably involved in relating to others. (Reminds me of how Ron likes going on fishing trips alone, finding them, I think, a means of better grounding himself.)
At the time too, especially on the way to Yellowstone, I became very tired and depressed, coming to feel intensely, in the vast, alien landscapes, my own solitude and insignificance, that I could die out there and it would matter and mean nothing at all. Yet, in fact, is that not, ultimately, the true state of things for each of us? A few others might miss us for awhile, but soon would get on with their lives. People would keep making, having, and rearing babies, getting by as best they could, just as folks have always done, whether we are part of the scene or not. None of us, really, are anything special, except to ourselves and a small group of folks with whom we have interacted.
In World War II, scores of millions of people died, each death a personal tragedy, yet the grass soon grew over their graves, economies recovered, memories of the dead disappeared, and the population as a whole flourished. The individual, with all his or her cherished personal insights, hopes, cares, ambitions, or fears, in the end is cancelled as completely and meaninglessly as for a postal stamp whose value, by an automatic process, were rendered spent.
Our entire species, indeed all vertebrates, in a blink of geological time, shall join all the others in extinction. So what?
Well, perhaps that view is objectively accurate in a sense. But equally legitimate and far more fulfilling is the subjectively persuasive idea of living life well, rewardingly, and to the fullest while we are here. Fortunately, though this may be all there is, the "all" that we have can often turn out to be an abundance!
In that spirit, taking on new adventures - experiments in living, not merely existing - may be the means to feeling and being more truly vital.
This morning, Fran left early to go see a woman friend with whom she practices duets, but not before, almost still in the dark, she'd taken Puff on her first walk of the day.
I took the beast on her second, about an hour later. Soon after I returned, when online, recording a stock transaction, the house power went out, apparently an electricity cut also up and down our block, without warning or explanation. The weather was fine.
I took Puff with me on an errand to the bank. The power was back on when I returned.
Later, Fran and I went for a quick lunch to Burger King, using a buy-one-get-one-free chicken sandwich coupon.
I'm currently on a reducing diet, seeking to lose about 5-10 pounds over the next half year or so. I'm jotting down the calories on everything I eat or drink. Though not fat, I find my jeans could fit more comfortably. These days, counting calories is a lot easier than when I was last doing this. So many food packages include that info along with other required nutritional data. Restaurants too are supposed to provide such information on request, and I was able to pick up a "nutritional packet" brochure from Burger King. It told me things were even worse than I'd expected in the foods I like there most.
Saturday, Fran and I had lunch at Tien Jin with Pete. He's working on a construction project in Blanco for our brother Ernie. He's on a self-help, growth kick, seeking to transform his life after supposedly hitting bottom a few years ago, when he was fired or resigned from five good jobs in as many months. The last one had lasted only five days (Pete having showed up late each morning), and he's been unemployed or working with Ernie ever since.
I applaud his efforts, but he still seems fairly clueless. There has been no real change in his basic personality. He's just trying to wrap his gift to humanity, especially to women, more appealingly. Yet he does not want genuine intimacy. When a situation takes him close to the truth about himself, he gets angry or rejects the person and moves on...
He's hired a "personal life coach" whom he talks to by phone fairly frequently, at about $100 an hour. He does credit her with helping him stay off alcohol for the last nine months. Evidently his latest frustration is that she's advising him to be honest with Ernie, to tell him that he doesn't like construction work or sharing employment with his brother and wants to get on with his life in a new vocation. Pete refuses. He thinks Ernie has no idea he's been trying to find other work and that he has less than total enthusiasm for their common venture. He's afraid Ernie will just fire him, and then he'll be right back where he was after losing the week-long job.
Ironically, Ernie's been kind of carrying him since the beginning and is well aware of Pete's reservations about the work. He bailed Pete out when some thought he was near suicide. And he's never complained about Pete. In fact, he even defends him, saying that though they have different business models and Pete is not enjoying some aspects of the job, nonetheless he is making a significant contribution in ways that Pete likes, such as marketing.
Yet Pete has often run Ernie down and acted as though he's being mistreated, not given enough share in the profits and required to do things he should not have to do, like supervise construction workers. But that is the business!
5/19/05-Thurs.-A hectic time, and I'm feeling quite tired (indeed, we both are, and shall probably go to bed early tonight), but there are satisfactions as well.
In the last few days, I've gotten a haircut for myself and given a grass cut to the yard, Fran has followed up with edging the lawn, we've put out (online) a new issue of our family newsletter, the dog has been taken on a half dozen walks, she's cornered and terrorized a field mouse and a baby opossum in the back, near our deck (but fortunately was pulled away before either creature - both having formidable teeth - bit the heck out of her), we've gone shopping (for dog food and other groceries, plus greeting cards and books), I've done a few stock transactions, have attended a lunch discussion on creativity, went to my regular literature book group, started going to a new (for me) mystery book club, played several internet chess match moves, began catching up on e-mails, started packing, and researched for/completed another Investor's Journal entry.
Tomorrow, Frances and I are driving up to Waco for a visit with my relations and for celebrations of one niece's birthday, another's wedding, and yet another's high school graduation with honors.
Meanwhile, the weather here in central Texas is getting rather unpleasantly summer-like, with highs tomorrow predicted to be around 97°F. The mosquitoes are also out, though not as badly so as this time last year.
Neither Fran nor I are getting enough sleep. Perhaps we'll be able to get more ZZZs this weekend. We are to be staying in a motel rather than spending ALL our free time with the madding familial crowd.
I heard an interesting Charley Rose interview the other night, on PBS. The man with whom he was chatting was making a good case for a slight, completely voluntary redistribution of wealth. He said the 600 richest people in the world control so much of the total wealth that if they would each take just one-tenth of their billions and apply it to serious, ongoing health problems, tremendous progress could be made toward the elimination of AIDS, malaria, and TB as world health crises, and in so doing literally millions of lives a year could be saved.
It struck me that the best off ONE BILLION people, giving a tenth of their net worth in well organized programs to build up the economies, health and educational systems, and infrastructure of currently failed or failing states, could positively transform the world.
The schism between those at the bottom and those at the top of our "material girl" (and boy) world has probably never been greater. I am no socialist or communist, but it does seem obscene to me that people are dying or going blind, lame, or into mental deficiency for lack of foods and medicines costing pennies (as is well documented), while millions have millions, sometimes even tens of millions, so much money they do not really know what to do with it. By sharing a bit of the world's wealth in programs as well organized as the Marshall Plan after World War II, many of its chronic problems and frustrations could probably be all but solved.
This country, though, may not be able to do it this time. We are so into our big fatty meals, huge SUVs, large houses, and such, or into giving corporations what they want at the expense of the individual, attempting to dominate the UN and other nations to suit a quite narrowly defined view of our national interest, trying to force our attitudes and beliefs onto others, even by force of arms when we are not under threat, and we are so into "values" put forth by religious and political zealots regardless of the suffering they cause, that we have given up our moral authority and likely our very capacity as a country to genuinely assist others in need. We urgently require help ourselves, every bit as much as some of the nations we seek to control, to set us back on the right course!
But we are on a false path, a way without heart, and though we do not seem to realize it, we are on a terribly destructive course. If we do not find our way soon, we hollow men and women shall cause horrendous pain and do irremediable harm.
Still, Fran and I are not rich. Nor are we the stuff of crusades, international movements, or salvations. If we are fortunate, we shall just do our bit in small ways, with pictures, stories or essays, nice looking gardens, interesting discussions perhaps, useful volunteer efforts, and trying our best to leave a legacy of having done a little more good than the bad we do, simply as participants in this arrogant, hyper-materialistic, militarist, and short-sighted, super-power culture.
5/24/05-Tues.-Fran and I attended the wedding of one of my nieces and her fiancé this just past weekend. The wedding had been arranged for outside and during the afternoon, with the reception also outdoors and following right after the end of the wedding.
It would have been a better arrangement if in the early spring, when our days are much cooler. Instead, the day was quite sunny and warm, the hottest one of the year there so far, and reached a scorching 98°F.
We men in coats and ties, as well as the women in their fancy wedding attire, and some in makeup, were quite uncomfortable. I was actually surprised none of the wedding party or their nearly 100 guests passed out from heat stroke. But plenty of water was provided and there were a few umbrellas handy to help keep the sun off the most vulnerable ones.
The ceremonies occurred on the grounds of a grand old house, next to a beautiful park, but there was no shade in the wedding and reception areas, and the inside of the house was not available to us except for a small not air-conditioned bathroom, where people lined up to take care of their needs.
A huge colony of bees had just moved into the high house roof, and three or four masses of them were outside of and at the edge of the roof. They were hot too and were continuously flying to and from a big fountain that was a lovely backdrop to the wedding ceremonies. Thus, the wedding party was only a few feet from scores of buzzing bees getting their drinks and going to and fro. I don't think anyone got stung though.
Frances and I took lots of pictures with our digital cameras. Several of these images came out well, so we are preparing CDs of the wedding and reception photos to send to the bride and groom and the two sets of parents.
In spite of the heat and bees, the wedding was a nice one, and the reception was well organized, with plenty of delicious food. However, I'm sure most everyone was glad when that stifling day came to an end!
Many of the participants are very religious and do not approve of alcoholic beverages, so most of us went home without any celebratory toasts having been consumed. But my brother, Ernie, bought a bottle of very good champagne and shared it with some of us back at our mom's place, after the official wedding activities had ended.
As with just about any social gathering, there were a goodly share of mishaps involved over the weekend. Hank, Ron's oldest son, had said, for the second or third year in a row, that he'd be arriving from CA for this latest family reunion type occasion, but once again never showed up.
Joan, Ron's latest ex-wife, had said she'd be there with their girls, Esther, who is graduating in a few days from high school with honors, and Jane, her younger sister. But Esther called from somewhere on the highway still in or near Austin to say their car had broken down, apparently the transmission once more, the rebuilt one inevitably not having lasted long. (So we missed them, and also could not then celebrate Esther's graduation together as had been planned.)
Ron is now taking both pain medicine for a bad back and pills for his bipolar disorder. I don't know how the two drugs interacting together are supposed to affect patients, but he was often rather spacey. During these states he could not remember well and lost things easily. He spent over an hour at one point, for instance, looking all over for one of the two bottles of medication. Finally, he was convinced he had left it downtown somewhere, only to find it later in his toilet kit. Asked what the meds were like, he just gave the cliché, saying while he was on them he was "feeling no pain." He'll perhaps get too dependent on them as he had earlier reacted to alcohol.
Ron believes, as he loudly announced to all and sundry while enjoying his drugged bliss, that there is no human involvement in so-called global warming. He said it is all just part of a natural cycle, and that scientists who have found otherwise are merely tainting the results of their research to suit their preconceptions.
He also thinks there is no problem with the government just printing money to finance its excessive spending. He said it is simply "fake currency" anyway. So, the thing to do is to print a lot more of it, to keep the economy stimulated and improve the job market. He believes other countries will just have to accept our dollars, regardless of how many trillions of them are printed, because we have the best denomination and the best, most powerful country in the world. End of story, in his view. To think anything else is just overcomplicating things and maybe undermining what otherwise would be a fine business picture.
Meanwhile, Leila, the bride's mother, was involved in a hit-and-run accident. She was driving after dark in a not so great part of town, and a man who happened to be Black was driving there without his lights on. Leila did not see his vehicle in time and ran into his car. Afterward, she asked to see his insurance info, offering to exchange her similar information with him, but he just yelled for her to follow him home. She said no, that she needed to see it now and wanted to stay there to get a police report of the accident. He repeated she must follow him home. When she refused, he angrily got in his car and drove off. In the semi-darkness, she was not able to get his license plate number. She was fortunately OK. There was enough damage to her car it had to be towed to a repair shop. To date, the police have not located the other driver.
Mom told us of this incident on Friday, while my sister-in-law, Nina, Allen's wife from Ecuador, who is herself Black, was also there in the kitchen, helping Mom (who with her broken ankle is not supposed to be on her feet much, even with a walking cast, though she largely ignores this and has developed skin ulcers under the cast from too much walking with it) prepare food for the next day's festivities. Later Allen and Nina said that she, Nina, has only a learner's permit and no car insurance, but drives alone anyway. Apparently, she cannot be bothered to get the license and insurance first, or perhaps they feel they cannot afford them. I don't understand it.
Ron overheard this conversation and said that his daughter, Esther, who turns 18 in July and graduates next week, works part-time at a mall optometry clinic after school and needs to drive to and from the job, so she does so despite not having a driver's license or insurance either. Esther's mother, who allows her to do this, is also Latin American, but I think this kind of laxness is more a function of low income than minority status. I wonder if driving without a license or insurance is simply considered acceptable behavior now.
Allen is still having problems with the government about his security clearance and his career as an engineer for a major defense company. His lawyer had told him the matter would probably be resolved by now. However, it seems the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to give him a hard time. He has always been a gung-ho Republican advocate of America first, last, and always, right or wrong. The only security at risk in this case is Allen's and his family's, now that they seem to be at the mercy of politically motivated bureaucrats in Washington.
The latter are now accusing him of poor judgment in regard to contacts with foreign nationals, though the contacts in question occurred prior to 9/11 and were only with a handful of people in a non-profit, similar to our Peace Corps, but based in Germany, trying to assist indigent Africans in one of that continent's poorest countries. This sort of thing makes one wonder if an out-of-control government might not almost be as bad in its way as what the terrorists wish they could do to us.
The unfortunate incidents last weekend did not end till after the wedding. The next day, Sunday, Ernie and his wife, Caroline, were getting ready to leave Mom's when they could not find the key to Ernie's vehicle, which Caroline had driven down the day before, Ernie having gotten a ride with someone else so he could help with the wedding preparations starting on Friday. Caroline had not brought the spare keys, which were back at home. After two hours of all of us there looking high and low for the missing keys, Caroline called Allen and Nina, who had left earlier, and accused them of letting their daughter, Sharon (age less than 2), take the keys and hide them somewhere. She insisted they look through all the child's things for the key that had been taken.
Privately, I believe Caroline put the keys somewhere herself and just cannot recall what she did with them, but she refuses to take any responsibility. In any case, Allen and Nina did not locate them in Sharon's things either.
Mom came to the rescue and loaned Ernie and Caroline her van. With it they were able to make the long trip back to near Dallas, get the spare keys, and then Ernie returned with them to get his truck and make the trip back once again.
Puff had a close encounter of the opossum kind last night. I had let her out for her final whiz of the evening. But a few moments later I heard a loud interaction at one of the sides of our privacy fence. I rushed over with flashlight and bug zapper (always handy in the evenings now that mosquitoes are about) and discovered a large, angry, hissing, and growling opossum head to head with our beast. It seems likely Puff had pulled it down off the top of the fence (which the opossums use as a little highway 'round our yard) by its long tail, riling the creature enough it was not about to go into its playing possum routine this time. Instead, its many, sharp teeth were bared and being repeatedly lunged toward Puff, but she was not backing down either.
I was afraid Puff might try to soon get physical, or more so than she had already, and so shoved the still active zapper between the two. The opossum reacted forcefully by trying to bite it, getting a little shock in the process. While the (dumb) marsupial was thus a trifle confused, I grabbed and took away our (and dumber?) overly protective pet.
5/29/05-Sun.-Yesterday I finished listening to an audio CD selection of great "New Yorker" magazine short stories. Today, I've begun hearing Kinky Friedman's The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic (a 'walk' in Austin)," a "slightly insane and surprisingly practical guide to the coolest city in Texas." Both sets of CDs were gifts from my mother-in-law, who, after I'd purchased my present car (which has a CD player), was delighted to find at last a kind of gift she could get me that I'd really appreciate, and thereafter she has been keeping me stocked up with intriguing listening pleasures.
Besides living in Austin, I have another at least tenuous link to this latest example of the medium: a friend of mine is one of the live musicians who have been accompanying Kinky Friedman on some of his publicity events, as he pursues the governorship of this great state. I also helped create the bumper sticker message, based on the entertainer's name and intended future residence, my version being: "Let's Get Kinky in the Governor's Mansion!" - which my friend said he passed along to the political aspirant.
One of my sometimes pen pals and I have been having an interesting exchange of ideas on our and others' widely different childhood backgrounds.
As recently as 14,000 years ago an entirely other species, a short stature, small-brained, yet tool using, socially sophisticated variety of Homo erectus, cohabited this planet with Homo sapiens sapiens. Just try to imagine how strange their kids' lives must have been compared with our own!
Yet even now, not just in the world as a whole, where, of course, there remains such divergence that some of our own species are living in stone age conditions, others are still today bought and sold as if they were cattle, thousands in Africa and Asia are nomads, owning essentially only what they can carry on pack animals, many folks get by on the equivalent of a few dollars a year while others inherit, and never have less than, billions (modern princesses, princes, and paupers), some people still burn forests periodically to get more land to cultivate, and kill and even eat other humans (in the Amazon jungle), others live entirely on houseboats and fishing junks, thousands grow up in refugee or prisoner camps, millions are at the mercy (in more than one way) of annual monsoons, a number have known warfare their entire lives and became fighters before they reached puberty, Eskimo cultures and others are losing their habitats and ways of life as the Arctic ice melts and the climate there becomes more temperate, some never know anything but a big city urban environment, other kids and adults live their whole lives in mines, brothels, on farms, as drug "mules," etc., even right in our own country there are some, like my correspondent, who at first share with the whole family a one-bedroom apartment and later live at a treeless lot close to a swamp on which friends or relations assist in erecting the family home, moved into before it is finished, while others are herding horses and cattle on huge ranches though their ages are yet in the single digits, some know only rich apartment life in Manhattan, others barely survive a desert crossing (where hundreds to this day, men, women, and children, die each year in the attempt) into the US from Mexico, often with nothing but the shirts they wear, and then are becoming successful entrepreneurs, rearing kids who will be honors graduates in our high schools and colleges, other people who in this postmodern Gulag state, where millions at any given time are in our jails and prisons (likely a larger percentage of thus wasted lives than in any other democratic country), know almost nothing but crime and incarceration, people who risk everything to sneak into our nation in the holds of freighters or even the wheel housings of giant aircraft and yet go on to be highly productive workers, helping to support multi-generational extended families here, and so on. In my own primary family, my mother was one summer, in the Great Depression, starving to death on the banks of a drying creek after her step-father's first heart attack, and their being thrown off the land where he'd been a sharecropper. Yet, once she was rescued by a southern grandfather who earned a decent wage working for the railroad, she lived in a house sometimes shared with Black servants, people whose lives in many ways were not so different than those of their slave ancestors. Her mother, well into the 1950s, when I would visit her along with my mom, lived alone without a car or even a bicycle in an unpainted shack, cold in winter, hot in summer, its "yard" bare of grass or walkways and just wide enough for the little old wood frame structure and deep enough to accommodate a few free roaming chickens plus a tiny outhouse. Mom would, less than twenty years after this, be a millionaire and help her mother stay in nicer digs. It is indeed quite notable how divergent our backgrounds can be, each one tending to inflexibly shape us as adults, yet each also a credit to hominids' enormous adaptability.
When last I'd written, we were enduring a dry spell and the beginning of Austin's long hot summer. The high a week ago was 100°F. But in the past couple days we've had a mild cool front cross through, bringing a couple nice storms. This evening we're under a tornado watch, and once more we have a decent chance for rain.
The main project this past week has been reviewing and processing the over 200 pictures we took at last Saturday's wedding and reception. Almost half of them turned out to be good enough to keep. We offered, as part of our gift, to send CDs of these to the bride and groom and their parents. But, sight unseen, they seem to have chosen not to take us up on the free, print-quality photos. Instead, they never mentioned ours but made much of the "wonderful" (amateurish, out-of-focus) wedding pictures a cousin in the bride's mother's family made available on one of the canned, online albums, that features pictures of no better than e-mail memory, mere hints of professional level images. (A dysfunctional family is so much fun.)
I couldn't understand the studied non-reaction at first. But my sister-in-law, Leila, the bride's mother, is quite the arrogant control freak, often scheming some petty method of making herself and hers look better while putting others down. (I never do this. Ha, ha!) In this case, I realized, she wants everyone to buy pictures provided by the photographer with whom they contracted for the event, and so help defray the costs.
Were they in any way to acknowledge nice pictures available for free, folks might figure prints of them would suffice and not put in the expensive orders that would encourage their photo man to give Leila and Horace a decent discount.
Such ideas in my counseling days I'd have labeled "paranoid," and they would justify that description now as well except that they've too frequently been confirmed where Leila is concerned. And as dominant Leila goes, so dutifully go her husband and eldest daughter, and presumably her new acquiescent hubby too. (Leila did finally comment on our offered portfolio of pictures, to point out that we had not taken photos of something she had wanted memorialized, a time, later that evening, when Horace [her husband, my brother, and the bride's father] had sung a special song, the words and music for which he'd written, about having to give up his little girl and release her into the care of another man. Evidently the highly paid professional had failed to snap that key shot too.)
Undaunted, Fran and I made a further selection, picking out the 50 best wedding pictures, which Frances then put onto temporary online gallery pages, sending the links to each in our extended family.
Meanwhile, Friday night I went to Esther's high school graduation at the Frank Erwin Center. First, Ron (Esther's father, another of my brothers), Esther, her sister, Jane, her half-brother, Joel, and I met at The Brick Oven, on Red River, for supper and the cards and gifts opening.
Later. Am back after several hours of new storms and a blackout.
I had started to mention Esther's graduation dinner. Anyway, we all gathered at the restaurant in plenty of time on Friday evening. Esther was dressed to kill in a lovely outfit, looking more beautiful and grown up than I'd ever seen her. The graduation senior gown would be put on afterward. Jane had a new dress and was looking quite spiffy too. I took several pictures. Quite a few came out well.
The dinner was great and the service efficient. We'd planned to all go over to the Erwin Center from there, but Ron had a surprise. He'd been playing volleyball with some of his new neighbors at the apartment complex he'd moved into, earlier this month, and fallen, apparently badly bruising or even breaking some ribs. He said he was in great pain, that every time he would breathe deeply it felt like a knife was sticking him. He said we should go to the graduation without him, and he would head to a hospital emergency room instead. (I hope it is not as serious as this sounded and that he's just playing it safe, but I've gotten no answer to my later e-mail and phone messages to him.)
So, after I'd taken the photos of Esther by herself (with and without gown) and of her with each of the others, we piled her cards and gifts into Ron's truck, and he took off for the hospital, but not before noticing (groan!) that while we were eating someone had side-swiped his vehicle, one which had been in good shape, that he'd been real proud of buying new not too long ago. No note had been left. Poor Ron! As Gilda Radner said, It's Always Something.
Joel, Jane, Esther, and I arrived at the Erwin Center a few minutes later. I was parked a few blocks away, but Joel (who is nearly deaf) gave us a ride, and got a handicapped parking spot right in front of the entrance the graduating seniors would be using. (I'm not sure why deafness qualifies for a disabled parking designation [as it does not result in mobility impairment], but it does, and I wasn't asking any questions at that point.)
Once we'd gotten seats, Jane used Dave's cell phone (borrowed for this purpose) and called her mom, Joan, Ron's third ex-wife, who joined us there a little later. I took a few more pictures, well actually lots more, but only a few came out alright.
Ron had not been alone in his suffering that evening. A day or two earlier I had strained my lower back badly. Now the slightest movements hurt. I felt I ought most of the time to be completely still and in bed, yet I did not want to give up attending the graduation activities. Besides, even if only small, slow steps are possible, I feel it is vital to keep moving some. My twice-daily walks are therefore continuing, though only around the block at first and with a much reduced pace.
By today, I had gradually increased these constitutionals to two miles a day, at around half normal speed, even if numerous times in these efforts I am wincing when a foot falls just a bit unexpectedly on an irregular surface, or the beast pulls me in a way that seems to pinch a raw nerve in my back, and I nearly scream. I've had severe spine problems for years. If I were to give in to them, I might have been seriously laid up by now. Still, this time things are as bad as they have ever been.
Tonight, I took Puff on the second walk of the day (her third, really, for, as is not unusual, she'd gone with Frances in the dark this AM, before I'd gotten up). The dog and I were about halfway through the current circuit when another thunderstorm blew in, and lightning began striking near us. Puff is almost as fearful of thunder as she is of roofers' nail- and staple-guns, and she was jerking about, wrenching the leash (and my spine) this way and that with each new thunderbolt.
The rain began too, and I had brought no umbrella. We were crossing Latta when lightning struck very close to us, in an adjacent backyard. Puff and I both jumped, and she went into her yanking of the leash bit. The rain was coming down so loudly I figured it wouldn't bother anybody if I screamed, so I roared out a few oaths and, as soon as I'd gotten us sort of safely across the street, I ordered her to stop trying to run home and just "SIT!" We were staying like that for a few moments under the first tree we'd come to, me in agony and she trembling with fear, when a car pulled up close to us, the lady driving it rolled down a window, and she asked if we could use a ride.
We were just a block and a half from home by then, but I was most pleased to accept this wonderful Samaritan's offer. So was Puff! No matter that this was a stranger's vehicle, as soon as the back door had been opened, she leaped in gratefully, with me close behind. As it happened, there was another dog. He possessed the front passenger space and was quite content to remain there, comfortably installed in a special little doggy car seat!
The woman drove me almost to our doorstep and, in reply to my effusive thanks, just said she was sure I would do the same for someone else one day. This kind of Pay it Forward (a not so great movie, but a marvelous idea) attitude was remarkable and impressive, all the more so in that one does not regularly come across it.
Moments after the friendly woman had dropped us off, there was a fresh seeming artillery barrage of rapid lightning strikes all around us, and a full-fledged intense gully-washer cloudburst opened up, complete with hail. Swift streams began churning through our backyard, scouring the turf away, down to hard clay, in several places. (We may need to buy a pallet or two of sod to plant where there is now just bare earth back there.) It was in the midst of this that, coincident with one of the close lightning flashes and booms, our power failed.
Frances and I realized after a few minutes that it could be a good while before our lights and AC were back on.
So, we just went to bed. (One can quickly see in these circumstances why, nine months after a big blackout in NYC, a vast number of new babies were born.) Puff, still traumatized, wanted to stay in the same room with us, but in her carrying case/kennel.
We'd napped already, earlier, and were not that sleepy, nor in the mood for passion. So we held hands and just talked about whatever silly or interesting things occurred to us.
Free associating, I suggested, for instance, that instead of really smart, fairly indestructible robots in humankind's future, it would be more amusing and realistic to consider rather lame cyber companions that were neurotic and constantly breaking down, catching viruses, needing their egos salved, having to be reassured, compulsively double-checking things, getting the digital equivalent of "high" too often, etc. We developed such thoughts to comic absurdity for awhile, and finally decided that in the overpopulated world of the future one could do worse than to have co-habiting relationships with all too human binary beings, the first romantic acquaintances with which (with whom?) might be hilarious (for others at least) and give a fresh twist to the concept of computer dating.
In the midst of such zaniness, my brother, Pete, called. At first, still in the dark and with my spine once more, as I tried to get up too quickly, in significant pain, I did not make it to the phone in time. Fran, who does not bother to conceal her dislike of this brother-in-law, curtly told him we were in a blackout and my back was hurting so much I could not come to the phone in any case, and then hung up on him. But the lights came back on soon afterward and, within only another ten minutes or so, I managed without falling to get safely to the phone, and so called him back.
He had just been calling to chat in a friendly way, he said, though it was evident, if I were so inclined, he might have ventilated to me further about his job with our brother, Ernie. (I did not encourage this.)
He said he's been trying to get one of the ladies he met over his Christmas vacation in Brazil to come here for a visit, but that she's having to jump through all kinds of ridiculous hoops imposed by our State Dept. or the Dept. of Homeland Security, following 9/11's terrorism. After trying for many weeks without success, and three times paying a "tax" (bribe?) to our countrymen for appointments at the US embassy, only to be stood up with each attempt, she thinks the single option she'll have for even a visitor's visa is if Pete returns there and gets one for her.
He said he himself is feeling frustrated enough he's considering just cashing in his 401(K), all $25,000 of it, moving to Brazil, marrying the lady, being a substitute father for her three children, and merely doing a little fishing each day for a living. I think occasionally life really can be that simple, but probably not for Pete.
I've gotten an e-mail from my mom. She said she had decided on her own (still over a week till her next scheduled doctor appointment) that she doesn't need to wear her walking cast (for late last month's severely broken ankle) all the time, and so she takes it off and walks around barefoot for several minutes at a stretch. I have strongly urged her to continue using the cast whenever she is walking, but have the impression she is as likely to follow this advice as fundamentalist Christian teenagers are to always adhere to a policy of total abstinence from sex before marriage (hence no need for birth control for Christian teens - yeah, right!) or, indeed, as Mom is to stay away from alcohol. Sigh.
I'm reading a couple good books just now, alternating between them depending on mood, Sky Woman Falling and The Jane Austen Book Club. I can enthusiastically recommend each.
A few mornings ago, walking slowly along with my bad back and my frisky cute canine, a man cycled by and waved who looked amazingly like Lance Armstrong.
Since meeting and sharing planet space with a reportedly perfect being, Maharaj Dayal Nam Ji, whom I used to regard as my divine mentor, when I was on the spiritual path called Lifestream Way, I have been less than swooning in my awe over meeting or seeing a number of merely human celebrities, from Billy Graham to Pete Seeger, Scot McKenzie, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Mary Pickford, Ram Dass, Santa Claus (Yes, I actually met the North Pole resident, in Washington, D.C., when I was about four years old, and, in fact, it was a pretty big deal for me at the time.), and a variety of lesser lights, but I do still react with pleasant surprise when anyone, much less somebody famous, is polite enough to offer a greeting. Chances are, though, this was not really the amazing bicycle athlete, but one of the many others here who aspire to his levels of health and self-discipline.
Last week, one of my fellow phone volunteers for the latest classical music station (KMFA) fund drive, a man almost exactly my age and who, from all appearances, was as fit as I am (more, considering my current spine problems) died suddenly of a stroke. Hmm. It's the kind of occurrence that makes one wonder, for a second or two anyway, if he or she is really making best use of what time remains.