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(1999-2002: Pre-Retirement Years)

Pigeon Point Light Station, California

8/1/01-Wed.-A friend sent some actual signs from around the world. One of my favorites comes from a notice at a cemetery (country not indicated): "Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves."

Austin has a dubious distinction. We have passed the former record, set in 1925, for the longest, unbroken string of 100+°F temperature days. It now stands at twenty-one (and counting). Given the global warming predictions, there will probably be a lot more such summer scorchers, or worse, in years to come.

Fran and I, perhaps partly because of the stress of the ongoing heat wave, too little sleep, watching our yard and gardens burn up, etc., have been having a harder time lately avoiding argumentative snipes. The particulars hardly matter. The overall atmosphere, including one person taking the slightest thing said by the other the wrong way, then the first speaker reacting to the apparently unreasonable response negatively, etc., is a little more poisoned right now than usual. Unpleasant!

We dare not go out with our aging dog (Pepper turning twelve on 8/13/01) for evening walks as we normally would. She simply cannot stand how hot it has become and how uncomfortable it remains at all times but early morning.

Another bit of bad news from work. The coffee fund that I had helped build up, starting last fall, from $75 to close to $200, when I turned over the coffee meister duties to another colleague this past May (after being placed on an unwarranted probationary plan), has been stolen. The new coffee meister was more careless with both supplies and moneys and admits ruefully that he had not locked the desk drawer in which he had stashed all our coffee dollars, by then up to over $210. Unfortunately, this is far from the first theft we have had at our best of all possible workplaces. The fellow in charge of the money bag has promised to recoup the loss out of his own pocket.

8/2/01-Thurs.-Thirty-five years ago, yesterday, one of the worst acts of violence in modern American history, apart from combat or racial confrontations, occurred here in Austin, when a sniper in the UT Tower shot as many people as he could, in ninety-six minutes, until he himself was finally killed. One of my sister, Alice's, favorite teachers was among the many dead.

In those days, before dealing in psychotherapy with the sources of many rages of my own, over such incidents as when my father tried to use his fist to ram down, and force my little sister Alice to swallow, a piece of gristle (for one must eat everything on one's plate), or when he was wrestling violently with Mom to prove that he'd won an argument, or when he was badgering and belittling one of my younger brothers mercilessly and in front of the whole family, I had confused extreme anger with genuine murderous intent of my own, and was greatly distressed by the example of the ex-Marine sharpshooter, as if his behavior somehow exposed and made real my own nightmares.

After the latest virus scare (something about a worm that infects and spreads on the 1st and 20th of each month and so far has gotten into the software of over 100,000 web sites), I'm thinking we should subscribe to an anti-virus service to stay up-to-date on measures against such things.

In chatting with my friend, Larry, at work today, I commented that the George W. administration does not recognize that special efforts need to be made about greenhouse gases, energy conservation on the highway, etc., maintaining, among other things, that there is not enough evidence yet for global warming or its connection with greenhouse gases. "That's right," Larry agreed, adding that it was "insane," and reflected the kind of thinking that prevailed thirty years ago. I allowed as how "W" wouldn't take these issues seriously till some future Hades-like temperatures had caused spontaneous combustion out on his Texas ranch. "Yeah," Larry quipped, "not till he experiences a BURNING BUSH!") (Note to the FBI and Secret Service: this is not a threat of any kind, just a reference to the Word of God made manifest, as in The Bible.) (Note to Jay Leno: feel free to improve on and use it!)

Larry had some bad news, though, besides his ready wit. His older surviving Jack Russell Terrier, Spice, was bitten in the face a few days ago by a rattlesnake. The dog's head swelled way up. Surprisingly and fortunately, she has not died and now seems to be getting better.

A neighbor of my sister, Alice's, in CA, lost her golden retriever during a wave of very high temperatures the other day. They thought it was a heat stroke; but the sudden death, with no warning symptoms at all, while the family had been outside playing with the animal, sounds more like a massive cerebrovascular stroke to me.

8/5/01-Sun.-Had a nightmare. Fran and I fortunately have a pleasantly active and affectionate physical relationship. But sometimes I still have sensuous dreams. In the one last night, I was eagerly disrobing a beautiful and most willing and passionate young lass; but when I finally pulled down and discarded her panties, there, in place of her lovely bush, was the smirking face of "George W." instead! Yuck!

8/6/01-Mon.-We are getting very tired of the heat wave. It is always thus in the summer here, though it seems that each one is hotter and dryer than the last. Our yard and gardens are drying up, even with Fran having watered liberally, morning and evening, almost everyday. We stay with it at least to try to keep the foundation slab from cracking. (A lot do crack under the stresses of expansion, unevenly, of the hot house above and the dry, settling dirt below. But the chances of this occurring are less if the soil around the residence, and thus under the slab, can be kept fairly moist. Unfortunately, our builder was not the best, as we discovered later; and many who had houses constructed by his company have already endured the great expense and loss of value of broken foundations.) Then, if we are really lucky, maybe half the grass and the garden plants will survive as well, till more reasonable weather finally arrives.

A new service from "Value Line" began arriving in today's mail, their "Expanded Edition." However, it was very disappointing, not at all as good as their advertising would lead one to expect. So, I called their customer service to get at least a prorated refund, having received only this first of fifty-two issues so far. Their firm refund policy, though, is extremely unfriendly. After my time and the cost of mailing their binders and materials back to them (my expense), are factored in, the already shoddy service will have cost me half what I paid for it, though I'll get nothing for it. I suppose their thinking is that if they make it hard enough to get a refund, maybe folks will just go ahead and keep the lousy subscription and they'll keep the full, inflated amount they charged for it. But whatever happened to trying to offer good service to get repeat business and word-of-mouth new customers? As things are, I'll use every opportunity to let others know that "Value Line" has terrible service at inflated prices!

The dog is having problems with her ears, yeast infections it seems. Too bad; but there are surely worse places for that condition. Fran took her to a new vet today, the old one (in both senses) having retired. Pepper did not like the new one and tried to bite her (never had that difficulty with the old guy). Oh well!

I did a little research on snakes over the weekend and found out about the medical profession's caduceus and how it includes the symbol for the kundalini. This and the background info. on this process, tradition, myth, and/or meditation approach were quite intriguing. By coincidence, I had a very kundalini-like experience while in CA, in my early twenties, having had a vision of cobras uncoiling and ascending my body as I was lying in bed, thinking I was dying, after taking an overdose. Then I had settled down to write and then draw my "last thoughts." Of course, it did not quite work out that way or you'd certainly not be reading this now.

Guess I'm not making a whole lot of sense. I'll stop for tonight.

8/7/01-Tues.-Hardly slept even half the night. Did have a weird dream, though. I was in a kind of cafe type place, which also was like a rooming house or club, where I'd go to hang out with acquaintances or friends. Only, there was also the impression I did not quite belong, if I ever did. During the course of one evening, I had a sharp pain in one knuckle and became aware that a little nano- or micro-probe had inserted itself there. I could somehow see it, a tiny, very advanced robot thing, capable of independent function, able to force itself into tight joints, regardless of how unpleasant that might be for the individual so invaded. It apparently was self-replicating too. It was, thus, a complex, artificial, alien life form, whether or not originally created by humans. It was in some ways like a medical tool, only much smaller and more sophisticated and clearly with its own agenda, not mine! Before the dream ended, it had forced its way into at least one other finger joint, though this was excruciatingly painful, and had replicated into several more probes that were then forcing themselves into adjoining knuckles, till most of my finger and major hand joints were affected. Somewhere in there I woke up!

Associations to the above are rampant but so far not really clicking as being "just right," as Goldilocks might have put it. For instance, the rooming house/club/cafe type place, where I sort of hang out, and do, and do not, belong, seems a fairly accurate description of my workplace, if one could conveniently forget about how lousy the work itself and the management are, and instead just think of it as a place to sip coffee or other beverages and associate with others through the day, a place I have never really fit in and which, in a matter of months, I'll be leaving for good. It is like a rooming house too, with each cubicle seen as a separate, semi-private room. The bitter-sweet element to it, that I did not mention above but which was true also of the feeling of the place in the dream, rings true for my feelings about my leaving reasonably soon a workplace that has been a major part of my life for over twenty years and where, inevitably, I have had any number of acquaintances and even a few closer friends, with no guarantee, once I leave, that there will be anything to replace the daily rewards of the social side of the work setting.

The probes in my hand and finger joints remind me right off of arthritis pain, of course, as if I were trying to give some explanation to it other than inevitable degeneration. At times the joint pain can be fairly intense, almost as though some hard thing were being forced, or forcing itself, into the tight joint spaces. Yet this does not account for the science fiction or medical aspect to the imagery. Aside from its reminding me of parts of episodes of the recent, modernized versions of "Star Trek," I cannot make anything of this aspect of the dream.

The probes were somewhat arrow-shaped, making it easier for them to wedge into already tight things. And, of course, aging joints often do not have enough liquid for smooth, pain free function. So, as one might expect, sex again seems to be rearing its head, but complicated by situations in which, for whatever reason, the receptive, female part is not well lubricated, which can be painful. But is this association a "stretch" or was the meaning actually there in the dream, not just added later? Don't know.

On the other hand (so to speak), except for the artificial aspect of the probes and that they affected mainly the joints, they also remind me of mosquitoes, which have been a bit of a problem lately, especially at night when one is most vulnerable to them and cannot fight back.

A lot of things have seemed to be going "yuckily" wrong for us lately, though, in reality, nothing really big, but many very obnoxious, aggravating incidents or circumstances. The "Value Line" thing, yesterday, for instance, got still worse today when I tried to get a clarification this evening from them on how to arrange the return of unwanted materials and learned that even for a "full refund," they will charge a $50 cancellation fee. To this are added some e-mail anomalies lately, garbage that neighbors are putting out in our street, other evidence the housing area is going quickly downhill, the problems we've been having with both our HMO and the main clinic we use, Pepper having bilateral ear infections, and so on, and so forth.

Well, time to stop dwelling on such matters and eat a late supper, before starting the routine leading to retiring for the night, and then starting the next "beautiful day in the (workplace) neighborhood."

8/8/01-Wed.-Feeling better this evening, even though another neighbor (besides the one who leaves his garbage in a pile on our street - still there this afternoon) is not even in his back yard, which abuts our side and front, but has his radio blaring away outside again (not even a station we like); and the trip home from work today felt like the hottest all year. (Have no AC in my little bumper-car.)

Got some relief from scandalous and outrageous business offenses today in my third call to "Value Line" in as many days. Hopefully, the third time is the charm and they'll live up to the most recent, more encouraging word.

Also, our social function at work, which I had set in motion, as it was my assigned month for such things, went without a hitch. All afterward were quite pleased (and stuffed).

Even better, I had a new, close, low monk parakeets fly-by sighting while walking around the building during a morning break. This always lifts my spirits and reminds me of Rumi and his esoteric teachings using simple stories, as about a parrot who gained release from its prison cage through feigning death or "dying while living." These pretty, pleasant, raucous, social birds, then, are for me a symbol of release, freedom, hope, and even adventure. (I would not want to actually own one or several, though. They are very long-lived, stinky, intrusive, and demanding pets!)

Also, this evening, Fran made us a frozen daiquiri each (without the alcohol, but still...). We love these things! We do not make them the usual way, contenting ourselves with daiquiri slushes, the perfect antidote to summer doldrums. They are so tasty and feel so nice in one's mouth and going down, it's tempting to eat/drink several spoonfuls of the icy concoction at a time. But a little goes a long way toward one of those intense cold headaches that seem to take several minutes to go away, during which one wonders about brain freeze.

It's time to create another Phil's Place entry.

Then, later tonight, I'll watch the latest rerun of "The West Wing!" Ah, simple satisfactions.

8/14/01-Tues.-The days, like fallen leaves, are drifting by.

We have been extremely busy and I very tired in the last nearly a week since the last entry. We went Friday, after I got back from work, over to see Matt and Glenda, for a dinner party, a last planning session for Fran and Matt before their trip, that begins very early in the morning two days from now, to CO and IL. They are not scheduled to return for nearly two weeks, arriving back late on 8/27. As it happened, Matt and Glenda also bought us supper and wine and we had a good time. They said they wanted to treat us, in partial recompense for my doing without Fran for so long and for Fran's helping Matt out with the driving, expenses, etc. While Glenda and I went to pick up to-go meals, Matt and Fran wrapped up their pre-trip arrangements.

Because Fran is at this point still an essential element in my online presence, having the HTML mastery that I lack, new entries here and in Phil's place will have to await her return. They'll be piling up in "My Documents" pending uploading.

I am grateful as well to Fran for answering a question I've been posing to myself for a few months now, what to call this journal after I retire. I would not want to just continue with "Steps," without a major demarcation, since this is clearly my "pre-retirement" diary.

She was clipping Pepper with scissors, as she usually does, on our deck, under large live oak trees we have back there. The hair was accumulating in tufts, wads, and little prickly balls, some being blown about a little in the wind, when she noticed that, mixing in with these, there was a rain of dove feathers, and realized that the large number of such fowl we have in our yard were molting. The phrase "dove feathers and dog hair" came to her. It sounded, she told me later, like a southern author's book title or perhaps a country western song. No, I said, it is the name of my next diary section, unless someone is already using it. So, I checked it out using Google: no prior claim. Beginning in December, then, "Steps" will be set aside for "Dove Feathers and Dog Hair." The diary would continue in that form at least until we move from Austin.

In the last few days we have had some bad news from Ron, that Claudia, whom we learned about ten days ago was having a biopsy, has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and that it has already spread quite a bit, into her left underarm lymph node area. Doctors removed a breast lump, in addition to the left axilla nodes; but the pathology report showed that the surgery did not get all of it. Now a mastectomy is scheduled for next week, to be followed by a series of chemotherapy treatments.

Considering that I read reports, in my work, on this kind of situation about once a week or more, I am surprisingly shaken by it. I do not know those people, of course; and they are not intimately involved with my brother. I think too that I still have unresolved feelings and bad memories from the time of my brother Ralph's illness with brain cancer, and the extreme difficulties he and Mary had in their marriage during that time. (In fact, I've gotten little sleep for two nights now, obsessing about Claudia and Ron's devastating situation.)

Ron has sent an e-mail indicating recent outbursts, uncharacteristic of Claudia, who usually seems pretty calm about things and has been dealing with this crisis mainly by staying busy with other things. But she has gotten pretty upset, naturally enough, and then sometimes lashes out at Ron, badly hurting his feelings. He is beginning to realize just how hard the next several months of their still budding relationship may be, and not just for her.

Over the weekend, we completed and got out our monthly family-and-investments newsletter.

We have been so tired and busy that we forgot all about two significant events, one celestial and one very much in our own backyard, so to speak. The height of the Perseids meteor showers occurred over the weekend. We did not remember to look for them, as we often do, until, by accident, Fran saw a very bright shooting star early Monday morning, just before sunup, while admiring the relative proximity of Luna, Venus, and Jupiter.

Our much more down to earth forgetfulness had to do with Pepper's birthday, which was last night. We always celebrate it, but forgot completely till I happened to notice it indicated on our desk calendar. Oh well. At least she did not realize the omission. In any case, I had taken her for a long walk and given her some extra treats. Tonight, though, we took her over to PetsMart, gathered a couple handfuls of special chew things, let her sniff all 'round, and, once back at the house, wrapped several treats and gave them to her as gifts. She may not understand what the occasion is; but she surely does get into opening presents! And she is doing marvelously well for a just-turned twelve-year-old dog!

She has given us pause lately, though, with a couple quite eerie episodes of low, almost human sounding, pathetic howling while looking at us plaintively. It is so long, low, and sad sounding that theses howls, which we have never before heard from her, make us think she has seen something awful, as if a premonitory vision of her own death. These incidents are rather disturbing. We are both so moved by them as to immediately go over to comfort her, even if we had already retired for the night. Maybe she's been having vivid nightmares.

8/16/01-Thurs.-It's 5:40 AM. I'm at the original Kerbey Lane Cafe, one of Austin's neat traditions, with good food and atmosphere, open twenty-four hours a day.

A little while ago I dropped Fran off at Matt's. They're driving all the way to Denver today, due in this evening, on this her third vacation trip of the summer.

I'm afraid I have not been as receptive to or supportive of this last one as I might have been, taking perhaps a too conventional view, prejudiced against it from the start because she'll be spending so much of the next twelve days and nights with another man.

And I have been put off too by various surprises: first, that the original week-long trip to which I had reluctantly agreed will instead be for twelve days; then, that to save money (cannot argue with that!) they'll not even have separate motel rooms; next, that, instead of her driving up to his and Glenda's place herself, or Matt coming to pick her up (since the whole initial idea of this shared trip was for his convenience and benefit), I was expected to get up at 4 AM and drop Fran off. I got really angry, all my misgivings and feelings of being taken for granted and used coming to the fore, last night when, as I saw it, Fran "sprang" the last surprise in the series on me, that I was also expected to pick her up on her return, that he was not, in spite of all her help to him with driving, pleasant companionship, working in the shows, and expenses, to be bothered with needing to even drop her off at our place. I'm afraid I blew up a little over that. She relented, saying then he would take her on home. But by then my juices were really flowing. I had really not wanted this trip from the outset. All of the news since then has made it seem less acceptable. I am aggravated that she would even consider it, but torn whether the best way of dealing with a spouse who does not naturally avoid situations that make me so uncomfortable is to flatly say "No" or try to accommodate to a degree but hope to keep such behavior within bounds. So sleep eluded till well after midnight, and then only after "ventilating" here in a searing "Steps" entry, since thought better of and deleted.

With the new morning, a fresh outlook. I'll miss having Fran here, but since it is going to happen anyway, whether or not I approve, do sincerely hope she has a good time.

I understand her great need and desire to get away from the extreme heat and drought conditions in Austin and to check out neat hiking opportunities, museums, zoos, and aquariums in and around Denver and Chicago. Central Texas this time of year, for whomever must try to look after a place in these parts, can be a really serious drag. I wish she could wait until I might go on such trips with her and that I were not, for the second time this hot season, left to look after not only an obnoxious job but, alone and in virtually all my spare time, also the baking yard with its drying out gardens, and then as well caring for the needs or our aging dog, routine chores, etc. But I do not truly think she prefers Matt to her husband, "just" vacations with him more than with me.

I began the day feeling amazingly well, all the above and my lack of sleep considered. Finding much cause, in simple things, for wonder, appreciation, anticipation, or enjoyment.

I tuned the radio to a "moldy oldies" station for while I was getting ready, and liked the lively musical reminders of neat times past.

Pepper was cute, not prepared to get up almost two hours early, but finally was coaxed into it.

Fran and I hugged and kissed sweetly "Goodbye."

The moon, a shining crescent, and Jupiter were in low horizon juxtaposition, with Venus also fairly close.

Traffic, for once, was pleasantly light.

Here at my breakfast stop, there is just one other customer; and the rich, hot coffee keeps coming.

This afternoon, right after work, I'll feed Pepper, take a short nap, and then start the next round of watering. Just before it gets dark, the dog and I shall take a nice walk in deer country.

8/17/01-Fri.-Matt called last night, on his mobile phone, from their first motel stop, giving me the number. Then he put Fran on; and we talked briefly. She was hyped; but for me it had been an exhausting day. I had been fuming again during the evening and was all out of sorts, brooding about whether Fran and I ought to get a divorce now and save ourselves much later misery. Clearly, it was a bit of a strain for me to shift gears suddenly and be all "up" and enthusiastic over her glowing reports of their trip so far. I suppose she had barely a clue of my emotional state, which was about as bleak and black as it gets, short of killing myself or someone else. At least I did mention I was envious of the exciting, stormy weather they'd been going through and the somewhat cooler temperatures, once they'd reached Denver. She said they got a great deal on a very nice room. (How nice for them.) As she went on extolling the virtues of their marvelous day, I heard Matt in the background saying something about "rubbing it in." Very apt.

Dismal as my outlook had been before their call, it was a pleasant surprise, as, before she'd left, she had indicated she would not even be in touch for the whole trip, presumably because of the inconvenience and cost of using the motel phone for a long-distance call, and not realizing Matt would have his mobile phone with him. The prospect of this was especially discouraging. (Never before, since we had gotten married, had Fran planned on a long time away on vacation with no intention to at least call or e-mail. I could only interpret this to mean that our relationship no longer was as important to her, a view supported, of course, by her readiness to go on such a trip at all!) Afterward, though I'd hardly been ready to engage in cheerful chatter, I was much cheered! She may well be blind to my feelings and cavalier over how her choosing to absent herself with another of my gender would affect them, or to the sense of abuse a near fortnight without her communication, much less her company, might have caused in me; but, if only on a whim, her wish to tell me of her day, ending the call with "I love you," lifted me somewhat out of the slough of despond into which I'd fallen. So, I can now more sensibly get on with the business of looking after things until her return.

Yesterday, for the second time in about a week, we missed a good opportunity here for rain, except for a sprinkle, which evaporated almost as soon as it had arrived. The heat index, by 10:00 tonight, was still close to 100°!

Our toads are expressing either some serious hormonal imbalance or sad tidings for folks who hope for cooler weather. They have, for several nights now, still been serenading for females and even successfully mating, as if this were spring or early summer and not the supposed end of our hellishly hot season. I surely hate to think they are right to lay new strings of eggs in our ponds now. That would mean summer will not end here for several more months! I fear that, sooner or later, greenhouse gases will assure such an "endless summer," but, lord, let it not be already! If we are "lucky," these modified amphibians have just joined the many millions of others whose chemical balances have been disrupted by a variety of pollutants or other factors we have inadvertently helped add to their environments.

Tonight, after got home from another productive week at my best of all possible workplaces, I fed the dog, checked for e-mail messages, and began the latest round of watering, which continued until well after 9 PM., when I walked the mutt. In spite of all Fran and I have been doing to prevent it, the grass and gardens seem to be just dying. We greatly need drenching rains, several days of them.

While wetting things down this night, I saw one of our bright goldfish in the larger of our ponds and some baby geckos near the house. These little creatures seem like pets to us. Unfortunately, perhaps when I closed the garage door in the dark at the end of watering last night, one tiny lizard had gotten crushed.

My nephew, Joel, is now settled into a new apartment-sharing arrangement in San Marcos, where he'll be starting school in a little over two weeks. He e-mails that he likes his roommates a lot. He and I are to get together for lunch and a movie a week from tomorrow.

8/18/01-Sat.-Today is my brother, Ron's, birthday. I'll try to give him a call. Had invited he and his girlfriend, Claudia, out to eat, to celebrate this event, but that was before her breast cancer was known. He declined, understandably, as it no longer seems appropriate to be very celebratory.

Perhaps a better day to recognize, all in all, is the death day of Genghis Khan, on this date in 1227. Certainly many folks were happy to celebrate it, except for hundreds or thousands of his troops, reportedly slaughtered and buried along with him!

Today is our official water rationing watering time. So, I am being especially conscientious in drenching everything I can in God's little 1/3 acre.

I left our biggest sprinkler on in the back while Pepper and I went for our morning walk. This constitutional was almost fun, indeed, was quite pleasant at first, the temperatures being significantly lower than yesterday in the wee hours. Plus, there was a nice breeze. Maybe we really shall get through this and on into the autumn. Still, warmer temperatures are again predicted for tomorrow.

While Fran is away, I note several changes. I spend the night most of the time on the sofa in the front room, which, for some reason, is more relaxing, restful, and sleep-inducing for me than the queen-sized slumber place in our master bedroom, though the available space on the couch there is actually more limited. On weekends, I tend generally to go to bed even after my normally late Fri. & Sat. retiring times. I also spend more time interacting with the dog, naturally enough. I do more meditative thinking. This morning, for instance, I contemplated our budgetary and investments issues at some length, all without pen and paper or computer, seeking simplification but practicality, while hopefully meshing Fran's and my somewhat divergent concerns and styles.

I tend also to listen to different things and/or in a different way than when my better half is here. Last night, for instance, during "Film Score Focus," I had three radios on. When a part began that I very much like, I turned up the stereo (so that the music was blaring from both ends of the house), sang along, and pretended to conduct an imaginary orchestra and choir while dancing enthusiastically around the room. In others' presence, even Fran's, I am normally much more reserved. I have also been listening to tapes I have of my deceased brother, Ralph, made from several audiocassettes we used to exchange by mail for several years before he died. These are a bittersweet blessing, bringing me at times near tears, at others to wistful smiles. (When Fran is here, this very private experience does not seem appropriate, particularly as, during the time I was driving frequently over to Houston to be with Ralph in his final months, she absolutely refused to ever go with me.)

While watering tonight, I was "confronted" on one weird-looking, landscape rock near a corner of our house, by a large, male anole, who began flashing his colorful throat to warn me off. I backed down, of course. One must not mess with a big male anole!

I called Glenda to see if the mobile phone number Matt had given me is long-distance. She thought not. We had a nice chat for a few minutes. Then I tried the mobile number, to talk with Fran for awhile. But it was not presently in service. I tried it several times. No luck. Glenda said they plan to stay in the same motel room tonight, for some fun activities tomorrow, and then likely would be heading north toward Chicago.

I've been watering like crazy and getting lots of mosquito bites. I note that, in Atlanta this past week, a woman has died, the first death in the American South, of West Nile Virus. Scientists say a different mosquito than the type that has been carrying this virus in the U.S. Northeast must be transmitting it now also in the South. Since separate bug species can now transmit it, and from any number of species of birds, to game mammals, livestock, and people, its further significant spread now seems inevitable. Folks are warned to wear protective clothing and insect repellent when outside. But likely most will not take precautions till it has become widespread.

I called Ron; and we talked for a time. I wished him "Happy Birthday." Chatted briefly with Claudia as well. She sounds upbeat. But Ron said she has her ups and downs and is very tired, as well as sore from recent, lesser surgeries. She is scheduled to have a mastectomy on 8/24. Ron's girls (about eight and fourteen) were visiting and planned to "take him out" tonight for a birthday dinner. Claudia had expected to go too but now does not feel up to it. I would have liked to join them; but if I suggested meeting them there tonight, it might seem pushy. And he did not bring it up.

8/19/01-Sun.-Later in the evening last night, Fran called me. It seems she was able to use the phone in Matt's truck, though the battery had run down on his mobile phone. Glenda had gotten through on another phone (must have several!) and had let Matt and Fran know I wanted to get in touch.

Fran, when she reached me, wondered if there were an emergency. "No," I said, "I just wanted some ordinary communication, a checking in, a seeing how things were going kind of conversation." She filled me in and said they are doing great! She told me of the Denver stamp show, that it had been very small, so Matt probably "only" did about $2000 worth of business. It only lasted one day. Fran knows enough about stamps, being a collector herself for many years (which is how she had met Matt, in fact, early in her marriage to me), and about organizing things generally, to be a real help to him, not just with the driving and expenses of the trip, but in setting up for the shows, packing things for the next one, and selling his stock when things get quite busy or he needs a break. Under the circumstances, I would be surprised if he does not ask for this kind of aid and road trip companionship from her again. However, I cannot see how I could ever go along with such an arrangement another time, shouldn't have this time. Maybe if he were paying all the expenses and had hired her for decent wages or a cut of the profits from the stamp shows.

She said Matt had gone dancing night before last and was out till 1 AM or so, while she luxuriated in their nice motel's amenities: pool, sauna, great bath, etc. Fran normally only takes one shower a day; and in our first years together, during the cooler months, often did not want even the one, though I had told her she was more attractive to her mate freshly soaped, scrubbed, and sweet-smelling. Of course, in those days we were mating like rabbits, whether she did daily ablutions or not. So she may not have taken my suggestion seriously. Anyway, in her motel she seems to be enjoying the various water works as much in one night as she does here in a week.

She has very much been enjoying Denver's attractions, including the zoo, botanical gardens, and a tropical rain forest.

Today, they are expecting to drive two or three hours or so and then go hiking in the mountains, in an area where Matt, who also likes collecting gems and minerals, hopes to pick up some neat geological specimens. Fran said it has been rather warm so far. They are looking forward to the anticipated cooler weather, once they get into the still higher elevations.

Back here in Austin, Pepper and I reluctantly got up about half past six (after having retired about 1:30). The sky was overcast through the morning; and we even had a brief, light rain. As usual lately, it was hardly enough to notice. The closest we came to a good drenching was being able to see lightning in dark clouds to the north, while hearing the rumblings of its distant thunder. This is the third time in about ten days we have come close to getting, but failed to actually receive, any significant downpour. Nonetheless, I took full advantage of the cloudy conditions for renewed watering efforts. By the end of the day, I expect to have completed a good watering of all areas in our yards and gardens at least once, and some twice, since Fran left.

Our best hope now of genuine relief from our drought conditions, though the odds for its affecting us are not considered good, is the third tropical storm of the current season, Chantal. It could become the first hurricane of the season later today, and likely will head on into Mexico very soon.

Pepper and I went for a walk this morning, but only in the neighborhood. Once she was back in the house, I did the weekly shopping, followed by a trip to Trudy's for breakfast.

8/21/01-Tues.-As the regular reader here may surmise, I have been having something of a rough time of it for the last several days. Feelings are terribly unreliable guides. Mine have been getting the better of me.

My poor wife asked my permission many weeks before making this trip she's on; and, however regretfully, I gave it. She could have just informed me she was going, but did not. Or I could have said "No, Dear. I am simply not comfortable with your doing that. I'm sorry; but please don't go," especially once I found out she and Matt were going to be spending not a week but 12 days on the road together and not only sharing a motel each night but also the same room. It would have been awkward. But the fact is that what had been agreed to had changed, or was never stated clearly, before I had accepted the proposal.

However, be that as it may, I did not nix it and now must face the fact that I am at least partly responsible for any unpleasant emotions I have been experiencing. So long as there is never a repeat of this kind of trip or as I state my objection once and for all, up front, if the matter does arise again, that should be the end of it. Too bad she did not prefer waiting till I might have gone on such a trip and that I reacted as strongly as I did; but that's water under the bridge.

On the other hand, if she does feel free to go on such trips with male friends again, I shall feel free to go with female ones on occasion as well.

I can imagine an ad I might run in "The Austin Chronicle:"

WANTED: Attractive, intelligent, somewhat younger woman for sharing driving, excellent motel rooms, nice meals, cultural entertainment, hiking in the mountains, interesting conversation, swimming, and expenses, with a literate, healthy, often amusing, recently retired 58-year-old man who desires more adventure, cooler weather, plus platonic friendship, and whose wife is understanding. Will consider well educated saleswoman preferring companionship to being alone on her route. (If married, traveler should have understanding husband as well.) Please send e-mail to Phil:

Enough said on that topic!

Now, in view of how ruffled my feelings did get, it seems wise that I use whatever means are at my disposal to deal with them on my own, including a lot of meditation, in the days remaining till Fran's return.

Later. As I continue to listen while Fran is away to cassettes of my brother, Ralph's, audio correspondence, I am struck by how important our day to day or even year to year or decades long issues and enthusiasms, all that we are "into," are influenced by how we are dealing with situations of the moment and by what already happened in the past - that has left its long shadow upon us - but how little by what may be or from an attitude of openness to what could be, with a suspension of our beliefs and expectations about how things are. This seems inevitable, of course. We see only a bit at a time and most of our vision is hindsight. Thus, just as I now look with perhaps justifiable glee on the prospect of being out from under the yoke of my state job relatively soon, do did Ralph, a few weeks before he finished his tour with the Air Force, in CA. He was terribly eager to head east then, and to begin anew a roommate relationship with me, in VA, only to find, once we were realizing that dream, that it had turned into one of the more unpleasant situations for both of us up to that point in our lives.

And, of course, he often talked with great positive conviction about the importance of "dying while living" in our Lifestream Way meditations, though at the same time harboring hopes and expectations for a normal, married, family life, a regular, successful career, and all that a long, healthy physical existence has to offer. Yet, with tragic irony, more consistent with his spiritual aspirations, within fifteen years, he was dead, following a gruesome, horrible battle with brain cancer, a courageous contest that, perhaps in some ways more than any other medical condition, involved him moment by moment, for ten months, in a conscious, excruciating, literal dying while living.

We are at times like bits of cork floating upon a tempest-tossed sea, sensing only at our moist edges the immensity beyond, tossed this way and that, believing and hoping in a modicum of control, all the while thrown about by forces quite beyond our grasp.

Later still. After working today, hand-watering for about an hour, writing the above, checking e-mails (no personal messages), doing weekly car maintenance, and tending to and entertaining the dog, I've been watching the movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes," one of Fran's and my favorites.

A peculiar mystery: this morning, in the middle of a my dry bathtub bottom, I found a mummified baby gecko. What was its story? How did it get there? I have no idea. But with its desiccated contractures and rigor mortis, it now has become a sad little bit of oddly-shaped, organic hardness.

8/22/01-Wed.-One very good thing has happened today. Senator Jesse Helms has announced he will not run for reelection. Much as I respect the distinguished Senator from North Carolina's strategic political success, he and his tactics have been a major embarrassment to our country and a serious obstacle to progressive interests globally for decades. With much luck, he may be followed in office by a Democrat. If not, at least a more moderate Republican seems likely to be elected to fill his ever so right-wing tip shoes.

8/23/01-Thurs.-Glancing over the last few days' entries, I am reminded of the story Janwillem van de Wetering told in The Empty Mirror of one of the head monks at a Zen monastery in Japan, an enlightened man, who, many years before, as a child, had had the misfortune to have both his parents die at the same time in a traffic accident. He was quite bitter and upset about his lot for awhile, until a Zazen master, a friend of the family, to whom he had gone to complain about how terribly life had treated him, told him he himself already knew the "answer" and that the only alternative was to be a neurotic fellow for the rest of his life. He seems to have made the right choice.

8/24/01-Fri.-We normally perceive things in three dimensions (four, I suppose, if you include awareness of the passage of time). Yet, theoretical physicists tell us it is in all likelihood a multi-dimensional universe. If so, it would seem reasonable to expect that our exceedingly complex nervous systems would in some ways have adapted to higher levels of dimensional interaction than we normally notice. The chance that this is the case seems greater when we learn that even honey bees (with relatively limited nets of neuron connections), in their directional dances to show others where fresh sources of pollen may be found, somehow mimic 5th-dimensional representations of 6th-dimensional phenomena (much as we use 2-dimensional drawing or painting images of 3-D things). How much more might we, with more neurons firing together than there are stars in our part of the universe, be in tune with the very fabric of that which is? This rather mathematical speculation about the source of possible "lateral links" is for me a more convincing hypothesis than either the divine or afterlife ones often presented for experiences of so-called "extra sensory perception."

Tried calling Fran and Matt again and again tonight. The phone at their end was just not working.

Set the large sprinkler to watering for the third time this evening. Then hosed Pepper down and drove with her over to the Barnes and Noble shopping center, where we had our nightly walk and a bit of adventure: nine deer sightings, one only about ten yards away, nibbling at the vegetation right up by the driveway behind the stores, before it finally noticed us, snorted loudly, and went racing off, to Pepper's extreme delight and excitement.

8/25/01-Sat.-Yucko! Last night I was playing with Pepper and saw a tiny white thing on her cute little bum. I took it off her and checked it out up close. Turned out to be a still living, moving worm, apparently a tapeworm segment, probably a gift from the time, a few months ago, when we had a flea infestation. Very gross! Hopefully we can get this quickly treated; and the vet. can take my word for it being a tapeworm. I was rather disgusted and washed the evidence away, using alcohol on the offended finger, followed by lots of soap and water. Only after I checked things out on the internet did I realize I should have saved the specimen that I had been so eager to dispatch.

Later. Back from dinner and "Planet of the Apes" with my nephew, Joel. The movie was OK. Some good special effects. Nothing much otherwise, though it was half-way decent entertainment in a couch-potato kind of turn-your-mind-off way. We ate at Golden Corral, with the atmosphere the worst it's been since I began going there. Not only were half the elephantine diabetics in the state there with their fat, young, cranky kids; but neither the AC nor the ice cream machine worked. Oh well.

This morning, before meeting Joel, I dropped off some laundry at a discount cleaners and took Pepper over to PetsMart, where she's been a few times for over-the-counter medications and such. She has not seen the vet. for a complete physical before. I was just hoping they'd see her on short notice and have prices that would compare favorably with the doctor we have been using since our tried and true low-cost, older veterinarian retired. Well, I do not know how the price worked out, though I suspect it was favorable. She got a thorough exam, history taken, stool checked out, advice on a kind of pimply rash she has on her back, plus the treatment stuff, for $71, and with no waiting. They have an annual health care plan for pets and indicated our charge today would have been only about 1/3 as much if we were part of that group arrangement. But I suspect that, after the cost of the plan is figured in, the savings would evaporate. Still, she's an older dog and will be having more things going wrong, in all likelihood. Maybe we should go that route. It sort of works for people. The good news, though, was that they did give me the medication I need to cure the dog's tapeworm. First application this afternoon.

Later. Have spent the evening in another round of watering around our house and gardens, then refilling our ponds, etc.

Alternating with this, and after I'd finished, I've been looking into security analysis. At the end of the year we should have a hefty round-figure chunk in equities. I am, as yet, but an amateur at investing. I may always remain such but, if so, I want at least to be a dedicated, determined one. With serious study and discipline, over the next decade I'd like to see if I can significantly improve my record. While I'll never by a Benjamin Graham or Warren Buffett, perhaps, with additional devotion to this hobby, the results may be at least better than average.

Again, twice more, tried the mobile phone number I'd been given for Fran and Matt, but with the same result as each time before.

8/26/01-Sun.-Ron reports that his friend, Claudia, had a mastectomy Friday and, though she had been quite upset over the prospect of losing a breast, is now resigning herself to it and resolved to fight and win this cancer battle. (Ron had earlier said the doctors have given her a poor prognosis, because of the spread of the disease before detection and the fact that it is an aggressive type. Certainly wish her the best! She still must deal with a series of chemotherapy treatments and its side-effects, recovering from the surgery, and the limbo of uncertainty over the outcome.)

Last night, Pepper left a turd in the house, the first time that has happened since her days as a very young puppy. It must be due to the worming medication.

Mowed the front today, barely missing several small- to medium-sized geckos, and continued the liquid refreshment to lawn and gardens. Then, off to Bombay Grill for a buffet brunch, doing the weekly shopping on my way home. Also picked up some more get well cards for Claudia.

Fran is due back late tomorrow.

We are supposed to have a good chance of precipitation tonight. Perhaps this time we shall at last see a real downpour.

8/27/01-Mon.-Fran is back! We'll see if the marriage is still fully intact or falling to pieces. Chances are, more the former than the latter. As usual at such times, when I am feeling the relationship is or should be about over, Fran will likely not see that there is any problem or, if she perceives one, assume it will blow over. Whether because we sweep a lot under the carpet, instead of dealing with it, or otherwise, she is usually right, till the next time. The stewing juices get a little more concentrated with each such episode. It becomes a little harder to let go of issues when we argue. More difficult to sleep, or to simply relax with and enjoy each other.

Last night and again today I have been reminded of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," from "Fantasia." Fran had, on her last evening here, given me a page of instructions for requested watering I would do, to keep her more precious plants alive and then, to a lesser extent, everything else in our 1/3 acre that has at least some pale, intermittent green in it. And so, like the character Mickey, I tried my best every day to keep things watered as desired. But it just was not enough. Lots of things were dying. The amount of green was shrinking, no matter how many hours a day I kept the hose going. I desperately hoped for a tremendous storm that would relieve the dearth of moisture! It seemed a magic spell was needed. Last night, though, it was as though the hoses, sprinklers, and buckets multiplied to an almost infinite degree. Within an hour and a half, we received about three inches of rain, about four before the evening was over. Today we got about an inch more! After two hours, last night, not only our (Travis) county but the adjoining ones (Williamson and Hays) were all experiencing flooding. The water rose in our yard so fast that it got, at the most vulnerable place, within two inches of our house siding. It also poured into our ponds, rearranged a few things, and left muddy mulch deltas and driftwood piles here and there.

8/28/01-Tues.-Fran and I are trying to go on with our normal routines and ways of relating with each other; but find that we both are more prickly and have rougher edges than usual. We attempt to be polite. Yet the slightest things set us off, as with Fran misunderstanding my use of the pronoun "he," thinking it meant someone other than who I actually meant and, instead of simply saying "Oh!" on realizing the misunderstanding, tried to accuse me of speaking incorrectly, as if it had to be someone's fault, or as with a sharp "Where are you going!?" when we were on a walk and I went a few feet extra down the sidewalk to avoid a muddy place where she had expected us to cross a street, and so on, and so forth. I'm sure she feels I am at least equally short with her, though I, of course, do not see it that way.

8/29/01-Wed.-We have still been receiving a lot of rain. Today, for instance, there was light precipitation all day long. We had gotten more yesterday too. Also, both cooler temperatures (at 5 PM and 75°, about 25° cooler than this time a week ago!) and cooler heads (Fran and I actually cracking jokes occasionally now) prevail today. Comparatively, this is, in each instance, great!

We went out to eat tonight. It was even comfortable enough to take the mutt with us in the car and leave her there while we enjoyed delicious Tex-Mex fare. I sipped a glass of white wine, my first booze in about three weeks.

Browsing through the web sites, I learned a bit of cinema trivia. Can you name the actor or actress who was born and died on this date? Here's an excellent clue: In part of an iceberg find the grid add a man.

8/30/01-Thurs.-Fran and I worked out the basics of our next budgetary arrangement, for retirement finances, this evening. We seem to see things fairly well eye to eye and to have much the same goals in mind. Good!

Today is Cameron Diaz's birthday. Ever since my dream, in which I "woke up" to find her in my arms, completely nude, and, to my surprised comment about what she was doing there, she said, "I'm just f---ing with you, Phil!" or words to that effect, I have had a special place for her in

We have been getting still more rain. I estimate we've gotten 5-6 inches just since 6 PM, Sunday, 8/26. There is still more toad serenading coming from our ponds, which already have scores of freshly hatched tadpoles.

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