Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"O'Neill's Roadside Cafe" *

I wrote this piece in October, but am going to re-post it today, because my brother Mahlon passed last night.

“O’Neill’s Roadside Cafe”
I talked to my friend Mahlon Blue last week.  He has been battling cancer for three years now, his “lounge warrior” days having caught up to him, the result of playing his music in night life venues for the past thirty-eight years.  Mahlon is a man of indomitable spirit; he has been a source of inspiration for me all this time, even though we have been out of touch these past thirty-eight years, until about six months ago.
We served together in the U.S. Army, overseas in the Republic of Korea, in 1972-73.  We clerked in the 199th Personnel Service Company, and ran in the same circle outside the office.  Our crowd included those who preferred to find entertainment within the confines of the hooch (barracks), rather than amidst the night-life available in the clubs.
Blue perpetually had his guitar resting lightly on his lap; when he didn't, it was because he was eating or sleeping.  Born in Louisiana, his drawl was soft and warm, and his John Lennon spectacles always made it seem as though he was laughing inwardly, at some joke that we were all welcome to share with him.  He was the same height as me, about five- ten, and he looked out of place in a military setting.  He wore a blue work shirt, when he wasn't in fatigues, and he wasn't in fatigues any more than he had to be. 
Midway through my sixteen month tour of duty, I went home on leave, married and returned to Korea with my wife, to reside off-post, in the capital city of Seoul.  Our apartment was open to my fellow brothers, who were able to escape hooch life and get a glimpse of normalcy for an evening.  We listened to music on technologically advanced systems, available in the PX at ridiculously cheap prices, and recorded our own musical efforts, in an ongoing battle to forget that we were seven thousand miles from home.
After a particularly enjoyable occasion, when Mahlon and three of the guys had been out for dinner and a relaxing evening, Mahlon composed a little musical ditty entitled “O’Neill’s Roadside Cafe.”  He and the other three played and recorded the song, and presented it to us the  next time they were out at the apartment.  I was overwhelmed by the gesture, not to mention that the ditty itself was quite enjoyable.
The song impacted me profoundly, helping me get through not only the rest of my tour of duty, but many hard times along the path since.  Inconceivable to me now, is the fact that I did not maintain contact with Mahlon when we went our separate directions in 1973, he to North Carolina, and I  to the San Gabriel Valley, twenty miles east of Los Angeles. 
While writing a narrative of my military experiences last spring, I googled Mahlon’s name, and found a picture of him onstage, in a nightclub venue on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.  From this source I was able to get a phone number, and subsequently contact him.  
With all of the rush of emotion that accompanied our reconnecting, came the knowledge that I had missed the passing of another military brother, Steve Addis, by a mere eight weeks.  I also found out that Mahlon had been battling cancer the past three years alongside Steve.  There is nothing I can do to change the fact that I was not there when Steve passed, but I am here now, so I keep in close touch.
Mahlon told me on the phone a couple of weeks ago, that on his recent trip to Duke University, where he has been undergoing some very sophisticated treatment, he was being rolled out on a gurney, when he encountered another gurney, this one with a seven-year-old girl on it.  One glance told him that she had been undergoing chemo therapy, and he told himself, “You think you have it bad; you ain’t facing nothin’ like this little girl.”
Even in the midst of his own battle, he is able to see that others have it worse.  When I talk to him on the phone I want to tell him how much his words have meant to me all these years,  and how much his spirit still means to me today, but I can’t seem to find the right language.  How do I say something like this without sounding depressing or even maudlin?  I think plain English will work just fine, and I think I will do it today.      

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Not Enough Words *

Not Enough Words
I am struggling to express myself on paper for the first time in recent memory.  Words, which generally flow so smoothly from my fingers, refuse to emerge.  My community has been rocked by violence in its most abhorrent form.  Unspeakably evil, even conceptually, a man was murdered on Tuesday night, after answering the front door of his own house, by another man with a rifle and a heart bent on destruction.
Jamal Andrews was thirty years old, with a partner and an infant son, engaged in a life which included music and friends.  Jamal was a former classmate of my sons, a former student of mine, a friend and a brother.  Jamal is also black.  I almost wrote that Jamal was black, but the fact remains, he is black and will always be black, no matter what happens to the vessel in which he lived his life.
In all of the time I knew him, I do not believe that thought ever crossed my conscious mind, the fact that Jamal had skin that was a different hue than those around him, first up on our mountain, in our two-room school-house, and then down in town, at the local public school.  I just am not programmed to note details that have no bearing on day-to-day activities.  Our community is small, very close, very responsive to those in need or those who are hurting, and very welcoming of diversity.  This IS California.
However, though details are still very unsettled, there appears to be little doubt that the slaying was racially motivated.  The assailant was a neighbor, with whom Jamal had little contact, and no established relationship.  There is talk about Jamal having returned a dog to this neighbor at some earlier point that fatal day, but little is known beyond that.  Jamal’s partner had come to the door, after he had opened it, in time to see the assailant raise the rifle and fire at least two rounds, one striking Jamal in the head, and ultimately killing him, and one hitting him in the shoulder.  He died in front of the house, as his partner watched. 
And something died within the heart of our community.  Some essence that we thought was a given in our world, proved to be as ephemeral as Jamal’s smile: here in one instant, and forever gone the next.  Our belief, that somehow we had escaped the reality of a culture in which skin color ultimately had any other effect, than to highlight individualism, has been shattered.  We might have believed that our community was above such behavior, because we have had little reason to fear, up until this point.  
I was thirty when my oldest son was born; he will turn thirty this fall.  Jamal was thirty when his life ended so abruptly.  Thirty years of age is the prime of life.  The last time I saw Jamal was at Vidal’s memorial, and he was there with his partner, who was on the verge of bringing their son into the world.  He was vibrant and happy, joy radiating out of every pore of his features, and he greeted me enthusiastically.  He greeted me as an equal, not in terms of skin color-that was never in dispute-but as a man who was about to share in one of the most cherished of human dreams, bringing a tiny representation of himself into the world.   

After reflecting on the reason for being there, we exchanged pleasantries, as he basked in the glow of the awareness that he was about to become a father, a dad, and how much he was looking forward to it.  I cherish this encounter and hold it close to heart, at this most melancholy of times.
What am I supposed to say to Lucy, Jamal’s mom, as I try to find some way to explain how this could have happened to her son?  As a teacher who taught language arts, social studies, some Spanish, some drama, and a lot of other subjects in a rural middle school, I also taught a lot of things about life.  With the rest of our staff, I taught about diversity and reverence, and respect for all things living.  
I did this through dialogue with students, by listening to them, and by asking them to listen to one another.  I saw students talking to Jamal; I saw them listening to him.  I witnessed an exchange of ideas and culture, that I saw as healthy and productive.  I did not think I had to fear the unthinkable.  There are not enough words to describe how inadequate all of that teaching was, at this most dismal of times.
Ironically, I learned what happened while standing in a grocery checkout line, down in Willits, while two men discussed in low tones what had occurred.  The first had asked the second man if he had heard about “Jamal.”  As I could not avoid the conversation, I felt the most sickening feeling descend over me as I fought to believe that there must be more than one Jamal in Mendocino County.  Later I was to find out that there was only one Jamal who mattered, and he was the victim of a heinous act.

Even with the atrocities committed on 911, there is a minute sense of relief, that many, if not most, at least had no knowledge that there was treachery involved.  Jamal came face to face with his attacker, and must have known that there is no other word for what was happening.  What was happening was unreal, it was unjust, and it was so infinitely final.
Now we are left to make some sense out it all.  It will take a better person than I, to make this sense, or to express it appropriately on paper.  I am too shattered to believe that I am the one to accomplish this.  Someone who can better explain what could have been done, to change the course of this event, is the person you are looking for.
All I feel I can even remotely do to cope with this brutal occurrence, is to double my efforts to instill in those around me, my belief that violence in all forms is reprehensible, and that life is to be revered.  I will strive to increase awareness of those around me, to appreciate the value and worth of every person, with whom you come into contact.  
I will strive to educate those around me that if everyone worked harder to accomplish these goals, that we might prevent this kind of senseless tragedy from occurring again.  My words sound empty, full of promise and determination, but woefully inadequate to take any degree of pain away from Lucy, or from any of us.  That’s not going to happen, not today, not ever.  
  But if everyone worked to remove violence as an acceptable alternative, and everyone taught values emphasizing respect and reverence for all life, then maybe it can make a difference, and maybe we can be spared a repetition of this insidious evil.  It’s the only thing I have, besides memories, both of Jamal, and of a kinder, gentler community, to get me through this struggle.   

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Guest

The Guest
The rabbit may as well have been a rock, for all of the movement she made.  Her five feet by three feet wooden hutch was adequate, but not.  Rabbits have hind legs that propel them along at a precipitous rate, but not now.  She was frozen into ice, not even a flick of her velvety white ears.  The pink nose, ever wrinkling and twitching, was frozen still.  Only her eyes, the whites of which displayed themselves so alarmingly, were dancing, gyrating frenetically, as they sought some explanation for the presence of the unthinkable.
For the rabbit was not alone.  Her hutch, ever the solitary confinement that it was, now featured a guest, a most unwelcome guest, one who had appeared without knocking, to join her in the sultry August afternoon.  No hands meant no knocking, which was appropriate, because the guest had no hands, and no feet either.  This intruder-no mistaking that-was unwelcome, and unprecedented, and silent as the grave. 
One second the bunny had been assiduously avoiding the afternoon rays of the blistering sun, stretching her length out in the shade, along the north wall of her domicile, almost catatonic in the dry heat, and the next she was a non-quivering wreck, still unmoving, but vibrating within every iota of its existence.  Her very soul was stripped of its equanimity by the instinctual recognition, that she was face to face with her mortality.  
The eyes into which the bunny stared were unblinking, for there were no eyelids.  The gaze presented to the bunny was hypnotic, and she would have shifted her gaze in an eye-blink, except she could not move.  Every pore of her existence shrilled out to her that to move was to perish.  She had to think, only she was prevented from doing so, by the icy grip of dread.
The scaly, diamond-shaped patches of olive-drab green, contrasted with the vibrancy of the shining live oak leaves in the background, as the alabaster-like form glided soundlessly along the top wooden slat of the hutch.  There was a two inch gap between the top of this slat, and the framework of the compound, through which the intruder had gained entry.  
Thirty-six inches down his frame, the buttons of his rattle, numbered eight, indicating that he had shed his thin overcoat, and donned a larger size, eight times, though in the animal kingdom, size meant nothing, when it came to instilling fear.  The intruder was a master of the craft.
The rabbit wanted to speak, to blurt out insubstantial questions about the unfairness of it all, but she couldn’t move.  She wanted to withdraw, into the vestibule, if you like, anything to avoid the implacable gaze.  She wanted, more than anything, to wake up from this deadly nightmare.
And I, standing a dozen paces away, could do nothing but wait with her.  If I moved, it would certainly spell disaster, the same as if the bunny moved.  Time refused to stand still.  It would move inexorably forward.  Events would unfold, as surely as the sun continued its immutable progress across the unseeing, unforgiving universe.
“I’m sorry, Darling, I was distracted.  What did you say?”  The woman looked up from her desk, papers overflowing, drifting aimlessly around her scholastic arena, and pushed her glasses more firmly into place on the bridge of her nose, where a faint sheen of perspiration suggested that it was hot.  She was the consummate academic, her study reflecting the fact that she had little interest in the domestic apportionment of her belongings, and even less interest in rectifying the situation.  Her companion had come in a short time before, and was poised above her, at the desk.
“I said it’s time for you to get a real job.  This writing crap is just that.  I can’t pay the bills with unpublished short stories.”  And he hovered there above her, as she attempted to fight off her panic, and failed, hurtling down into the bottomless pit of despair.
“Of course, dear.  You’re right.”  
Say good night, bunny.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Entirely Elephant

Entirely Elephant
Our writing community is like a social club, whose saloon-style doors are always unlocked.  I often stop in at the lounge, at the most extraordinary times, without conversing with anyone, simply flitting from one personality to another, taking in words at each site, and dashing home to reflect on them.  I often visit, sample, and retreat, contemplating what I have encountered, and letting it drift around inside the expansive sawdust repository, which comprises my brain.
All that sawdust mixes with the more substantial fodder gathered from my journeys, and combines to form tangible evidence on the monitor in front of me.  Words jump out at me in black on white, and I await to see what has transpired.
The other morning I arrived back, simply thrumming inside from a new word I had encountered.  I find it as provocative to meet a new word, as I would to have a new follower join my site.  Admittedly I can accommodate far more words, than I can followers.  With followers come certain pleasurable responsibilities, while with words, comes nothing but the pleasure.  
I am sure I have encountered “thrum” in the past; I just do not recall.  “Thrumming thunder” has such an alliterative/onomatopoetic melody to it, I positively chortle in my appreciation for its tone and timbre.  The phrase came out of a piece written by Suzanne, that resonated with the music of our language to which I have alluded in the past.  I marveled at the piece which contained this phrase, even if I couldn’t intelligently comment on it.  It was enough to come away from this particular wordhoard, clutching a new treasure, with the same tenacity with which Lynda latches onto a new-to-her auction piece.
Back at home I will display my new phrase on the mantelpiece, examine it, maybe test drive it, insert it somewhere in my writing, run it up the flagpole, and see if anyone salutes it.

I do not even worry about the etiquette of borrowing dynamic words, phrases or ideas from the sites I visit, because the response is always so overwhelmingly positive.  Each of us, who communicates exclusively via words, must use this same tool to determine approval or support.  When I piggy-backed on Suzanne’s interest in verification words, to post a piece of fluff on my interest in these letter-groupings, I did not worry that she would object.  She has mentioned in the past that she is “honored” to have an idea or phrase acknowledged. 
I feel the same, should something I mentioned rear its pointed head, in another’s post.  That’s why the discussion this morning, encountered first at Masked Mom’s site, but originating at Word Nerd’s site, is so fascinating to me.  The ongoing discussion of etiquette within blog sites is of interest, because we are still trying to determine what the parameters are, and if they are the same for everyone.
I see bloggers with ten times the followers as I have, and I realize that it is easy to cross over into a different league, one that I sit in the stands for only, preferring to follow the action from a safe distance.  I am also cautious about commenting on sites, until I am certain that there are enough commonalities to warrant my further participation.  I am not interested in quantity; I am interested in quality.  
I feel that if I am a regular visitor to a site, that I can then do any of three or more options: visit, investigate and move on to reflect; visit, comment and move on; or visit, comment and return to see how it all worked out.  Because I have more flexibility than anyone else (I believe), I have this luxury.  I also have the luxury of being able to write, pretty much any time I want, day or night.

 Of course, I enjoy receiving comments, but never worry if any given day's response seems lackluster, because I know people have real lives, and because I have always written, first and foremost, for my own enjoyment.  Comments do not validate my writing; they complement it.

I do work in the house, both maintaining the upkeep, and being gainfully employed, but there are no time restrictions involving when, or how much time, I must work.  It’s all up to “Bill,” who presents himself incessantly when I stop in at the post office.
My desire to write and be acknowledged, has been met with phenomenal success.  As the dialogue about etiquette continues, with input from many, I will monitor closely.  Meanwhile, my affair with words thrums onward, thundering forward like an elephant, finally released from its stockade.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'd Like to Help You Out...

I'd Like to Help You Out...
It’s not all peaches and cream when you’re dealing with a lifelong disability such as panic disorder.  There are also unpleasant ramifications, such as the inability to be confined in small rooms with many people, making the serving of jury duty physically impossible.  But that condition didn’t evolve with me until shortly before my retirement, around five years ago.
Like everyone else, I have been notified a dozen or more times, that I needed to report to the County Courthouse for jury duty.  Like everyone else, I have reported to the proper place numerous times, only to be told that my services were not required.  I have also been lucky enough to find out via phone that I did not need to show up.  What I have not done is serve on a jury itself.
I actually think it would be kind of interesting.  However, all of the years I taught, being summoned was a sentence worse than death, because of the hassle of making plans, writing them down for the sub, clarifying for students precisely what my expectations were, and what the consequences would be upon my return, if said instructions were not followed. 
Then, if at the last second, the summons was dismissed, the sub had to be informed, and the sub plans set aside for use at a different time.  Serving as a juror is almost always a major headache.  It gets in the way of your routine, and causes ripples of inconvenience to encircle you.  And what about the poor citizen, for whom the jury was assembled?  How much chance does he/she stand if one or more of the jurors has greener pastures to graze?  I can just hear the dialogue.  Hurry up and find him guilty, so that I can get to the game.  Or innocent.  Whatever, just hurry it up.  Would I want my future hanging in that guy’s balance?  How can that situation be avoided? 
I think the judicial system should hire full-time jurors to hear the cases. There are many advantages to this plan, the most obvious one being that county officials no longer would have to beat the paths searching for a few good people.  Then there is the advantage of the jurors themselves becoming more knowledgable on the court proceedings, plus the fact that they would not have to have their minds some place else, at least no more so than anyone else on the job.
Think about it though.  If you were a full-time juror, then you would have a lot of off-days, because trials are always being postponed, or cases being settled out of court, at the last minute.  Then full-time jurors would get the day off, with no one being inconvenienced.   I would much rather have a jury comprised of full-time jurors, than by people being summoned, at great personal discomfort, to serve on my jury.  I can’t help thinking that a feeling of resentment at being there in the first place, might cloud some people’s perspective.
While teaching, if I were called for jury duty, my mind would be out in the hall, trying to find out if Billy had thrown any chairs through the window yet, or whether the instructional assistant had actually made it in this morning, as opposed to the past two.  I would be worried that I forgot to mention that the attendance book had to be sent up to the office by nine, or that the designated students be released to go over to the garden to water our bed of garlic.
How beneficial can that be to the poor defendant on trial?  That person deserves to at least have the attention of the twelve citizens who are about to decide his fate.  Removing this responsibility from the shoulders of an unconcerned population, and placing it in the hands of people, who are paid full-time to hear these matters, makes the most sense to me.  Then I wouldn’t have to send notes to the jury commissioner, like the one I sent a few weeks ago.  It went like this:
To Whom it May Concern:
Thank you for thinking of me; I would be delighted to assist you in your desire to incarcerate the miscreants of our area, especially on Halloween.  Unfortunately, I suffer from panic attacks.  The idea of being sequestered in the midst of a group of people (strangers, or otherwise) is enough to put me in a state where I might commit some dastardly deed, and be the next to be tried.
It is unfortunate that you folks have such a poor system of filing, that you have once again misplaced my folder, with the two different substantiations of my medical problems.  This might be a good time to upgrade this particular facet of your notification system.  Someone is sleeping at the switch.  That means you keep contacting me fruitlessly.  It seems like a waste of time to me.  Buddha only knows, time is money, and money does not grow on trees.
In any case I have decided that this is not my problem.  I have conformed to your demand for my doctor’s verification twice.  It involved two separate trips to Willits to accommodate your requests, and I am afraid I am not up to the task a third time.  Strike three, I’m out.   If it means you are going to come up and arrest me, then let the festivities begin.  Tell them not to use the siren, because it makes the dogs go off, and tell them to bring their own water pipes.
Ultimately, even if I were able to finagle my way down to Ukiah, I am afraid that the nice judge would fail to view my need to ingest in my doctor-prescribed medication with any degree of tolerance.  Or is it possible that he/she does provide a smoking lounge for those of us who need to utilize the water pipe periodically, in order to function with any degree of proficiency?
In either case, I remain respectfully, and sincerely yours,
Mark D. O’Neill
I felt bad, but not that bad.  I got a permanent dispensation by return mail.  I like my plan to hire full-time jurors, and in these tough economic times, we can always use more jobs.  That way, folks like me, who struggle with elements of the process, will be spared the necessity of pleading for exemption, leaving the matter to the experts.  Sounds like a two-fer to me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Only Scoreboard That Matters

The Only Scoreboard That Matters
If you bear with me while I describe our gathering yesterday, I promise I will neither bore you with “loud guy noise” (thanks, Lynda), nor will I whine about my team coming up on the short end of the stick.  I am so over that.  
No, what I’d like to talk about is the concept of a few friends gathering, pursuing various endeavors, with a televised event for backdrop, but no energy wasted on worrying about the outcome.  I am certainly the most ardent fan of the local team; the others were simply curious bystanders, or even disinterested ones, in which case the sewing machines were available in the newly-completed studio upstairs, so all was good.
However, I was far more interested in the preparations for the gathering, than I was in the outcome of the televised event.  I began on Saturday, addressing some cleaning issues in both the kitchen and bathroom, and finished up yesterday morning, removing dog prints once again from the entryway by the back door, even as the rain continues its staccato beat on our metal roof.  It is a distant “thrumming thunder” (thanks, Suzanne), blending in with the pulsing wind, which moans in conjunction with the percussion of raindrops.  It is a top-ten melody around here.
I wasn’t doing a pre-Thanksgiving Day cleaning; after all, guys watching football, naturally relax those rigid standards of cleanliness, that usually dominate their behavior.  However, Annie would have felt compelled to do the cleanup, if I did not, and that didn’t seem fair.  
Once the place was presentable, I set about slicing and dicing an assortment of ingredients for thechicken cacciatore.  Casey had supplied me with an onion the size of a grapefruit, which had come out of the garden, along with a green pepper, which had not.  Later, when he showed up shortly before halftime, he brought salad greens, carrots, kale, beets, garlic and a cabbage, all from the garden, to complement the rice and pasta sauce.
I used six pints of thick tomato sauce, that I had canned on September 10th,  2010, uncharacteristically still available in the pantry.  The date is significant, because it is my little sister, JT's birthday.  I paused for more than a minute, as I reflected that in September of 2010, the Giants were stampeding towards their first World Series Championship in 54 years.   Back to small minds, small pleasures.
The sauce was simmering on the wood-stove well before the start of the game, and I had plenty of time to brown the chicken, in a little sunflower oil, before the contest started.  I drained the accumulated, excess oil from the chicken, and divided the tomato sauce evenly between the two frying pans of browned chicken.  I wanted it to simmer for around two and a half hours, at which time we would pause the game, and join together at the table for some dinner.  The thyme and oregano, that Annie had gathered, from beneath the few inches of snow, accented the fragrance wafting through the house.  Because Casey was doing the salad, the only other thing I needed to do, was get some brown rice on, about an hour before dinner.  Brown rice takes so much longer than white rice, but with two wood stoves going all day, there was ample stove space.
David brought avocados and cilantro, so I stripped the skins off and mooshed them up, and David used some of Annie’s salsa to make some killer guacamole to dip our celery and chips in.  The gals were upstairs, unfathomably able to set aside their burning desire to watch the game, to attend to the more sedentary business of quilting.  If you had asked them about it, they would have told you how much they would rather have been cooking, than quilting, but they were trying to cope with it all.
Quick glance at the scoreboard:  Mark is cooking the main entree; Casey has the salad under control; David has the guacamole assembled, and Mark has delivered some upstairs to the gals, to ensure that there was some some set aside, before the guys got into the act.
When we returned to the game after dinner, the outcome took only minutes to resolve itself, and life moved on, as guests braved the elements to return home.  On their way out the door, the guys were already making plans for two weeks from now, when the Superbowl takes place.  Each plans to bring a dish, so that we can recreate yesterday’s festivities.

No one really cares who wins the game, because we are already on the winning side, and that doesn't leave any room for sniveling because some guy on your team dropped the ball, and some guy on the other team kicked the football through the crossbars.  Just pass the pasta sauce down this way, and remember that the kitchen staff will be in later, so rinse your plate when you're done eating. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What's Not to Like?

What’s Not to Like?
Man is such an adaptable critter, woman too.  I have prattled on about our move up here on the ridge, and the challenges that face us, being off the grid.  There was a time, not too terribly long ago, that if you told me I had to go out into the driving rain, every fifteen minutes to push buttons to get electricity, I would have sniveled up a storm.  Now I think, “All I have to do to get electricity, is push a few buttons every fifteen minutes?  What’s not to like?”
It’s all in my mind.  Whining used to come so naturally to me, because I listened to it all my life.  Only we didn’t call it whining, we called it making conversation.  Papa would sit at the table, having one of his two nightly cocktails, and rehash the events of the day.  He worked long hours in a mammoth metal shop, doing heli-arch welding for a steel company.  He was a specialist in his field, but his field still took place in an oven in the summer, and an icebox in the winter.
He went to work when he was sick, because he wanted to save his sick days for going fishing.  He maintained that if he was sick anyway, he might as well go to work and get paid for it.  But he voiced his opinions nightly, to Mama, as I peeled potatoes in the background, forgotten for a change, by virtue of the fact that I was actually quiet.
I learned how to make sure that every injustice, every daily atrocity that occurred in the workplace, every perceived egotistical action, on the part of superiors, was dutifully reported.  There was a lot to learn.
For years, Annie had a xeroxed flyer magnetted to the refrigerator,  with the word “whining” enclosed in a circle, and a bar drawn through it, clearly a warning that sniveling would not be tolerated.  Only I didn’t know how to identify it, when I stared into the mirror.
As an off-shoot of my panic disorder therapy, I learned the concept of “distorted thinking.”  This refers to patterns of thought that are not in synch with reality.  These are patterns that people form because of faulty logic, but the patterns become so ingrained in our personalities, that we do them automatically.
Catastrophizing is one distorted thought process that I used to employ a lot.  This involves assuming that any possible incident that could happen, during the course of any day, will take the worst possible avenue available.  It tends to put a damper on things. 
Snow is in the forecast?  “The highways will be a bear.”  
Snow is in the forecast in town?   “The students will be dangling from the chandeliers.”  
Snow is forecast for the next three days?  “We’ll be snowed in for a week.”  
It’s easy to get into that mode.
Fast forward to now.  No-power blues?  There was a time when just the nature of unexpected power-failure (off the grid, there is no such thing as “expected” power-failure) was such, that it would send me into a tailspin, that would result in a bout of whining at the adversities of living where we do.  Trying to confuse me, by reminding me that I chose this venue, is fruitless.
Now, the first thing I do, is ask myself if it is a matter of life and death, what is the worst that can happen, and then I let a little time go by.  I contemplate the options, investigate accordingly, and make plans based on all factors.  Now, the first thing I note is the fact that the big generator, after doing one of its surging/floundering episodes, is sounding uncharacteristically healthy.  As long as it is humming along, we do have full electricity, just not much petrol.  Since we have to take the little genny to Willits, we can get gasoline then.
The second thing to note is that I still can access fifteen minutes of power at a time by pushing buttons.  That is inconvenient, but is still enough time to get the little tasks done.  And finally, by going into town to the shop, Annie can plug phones in, and I can plug my laptop in to readily available electricity, in order to charge them up.  Then lack of power need not stop forward progress.
Is it easy?  Not so much.  Is it doable?  Pretty much.  
Is it any different than being in town and losing PG&E for four days?  Not so much.  Isn’t it nice that PG&E is not part of the equation?  Pretty much.  
Six of one-half a dozen of the other.  “What’s not to like?”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't Rock the Boat

Don’t Rock the Boat
The contrast provided by the juxtaposing of candles alongside Terra Jean, my laptop, is startling.  On the one hand, the presence of the computer indicates everything 21st century; the glow provided by the flickering candlelight, screams 19th century.  I am somewhere in the middle, planted firmly in the twentieth century, not quite all the way to the present, but a lot further into the process, than I might have expected.
So what’s with the candles?  We have no power.  This is a common enough event, that of the power suddenly cutting out.  It is par for the course, that we encounter and endure a plethora of logistical happenstance, in order to keep our lifestyle alive and flourishing.  Normally, it means having to go out and determine which of a number of possibilities exists, which has thrust us into darkness.
Generally, because of the lack of sun, the solar panels have not generated sufficient electricity to charge the batteries, and I now must supplement the flow of energy, with my generator.  Unfortunately, after charging for hours, the eight deep cycle batteries refused to hold a charge.  After running down the list of possibilities, I checked the water level in the batteries, something that should be done monthly, and found that two of the eight batteries, were drastically low on water.
Filling them up, and adding water to all of the rest, provided no relief.  I usually monitor the water level closely, but have been lulled into a false sense of complacency by the benign weather pattern.  Now, I fear the batteries are history.  Like shock absorbers, or spark plugs, one never replaces just one.  If one of the eight batteries is wasted, the others are in the same predicament.  
Logistically, replacing the batteries is painful, because they are far too heavy for this old cowboy to be shifting them around.  There was a time, but those days are gone forever.  Now I rely on the strong backs of the twenty-somethings around me, to take care of these things.  I will cook the chicken cacciatore, and make the salad, and they will switch the batteries.
For the time being, I can go out to the inverter, and push buttons to activate the system, for fifteen minute intervals.  Casey explained that he thought there was sufficient energy stored in the batteries, but that the one or two batteries which had gotten so low on water, were probably shorting out.  So I have power for fifteen minute increments, just long enough to post a piece of writing, or sneak a comment in.
Meanwhile, Annie and I resigned ourselves to an adjusted lifestyle, until these plans to rectify the power outage can be implemented.  I washed the dishes from our meal of tostadas, Spanish rice and salad, with candles on either side of the sink, while Annie put the dishes away.  We don’t get too excited by these challenges, because we’ve had a lot of practice.  After all, the fierce winds and heavy rains have knocked the power out for many of our contemporaries in town, so we are in good company.  
On a whim, Annie got out the dominoes, and we played four consecutive contests, with the two of us splitting the victories.  We had been playing cribbage lately, and the change was pleasant.  The television remained off, and when the time came for dinner, Annie had gotten out the candles and their holders, and scattered them throughout the downstairs arena.  Each trio of candles is in a metal pie pan, or some other type of receptacle, to ensure that neither wax drips, nor candle flips.  If a candle does get knocked over, it can’t burn the joint down. 
I hear dripping in the downstairs bathroom though, a result of all that trampling around up there earlier this year, while I orchestrated the connecting of the new addition to the original house structure.  I had been up on the roof, weaving the composition shingles that still exist on the original roof, to mesh with those of the new addition.  My actions had taken their toll.  Luckily, the bathroom roof is small.  
The other development is that the little generator is smoking, an ominous sign.  If I keep running it, I risk extensive, additional damage.  But if I take it in to the shop, I will have to borrow Casey’s for the extravaganza tomorrow.  That’s not a problem, but it just means things are starting to domino out of control: power outage, leaky roof, genny in the shop.  You know what they say about not rocking the boat-I wonder if Annie and I should have stuck to cribbage.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Texas Hold 'Em

Texas Hold ‘Em
I am looking at a home-made flyer, detailing the sad case of Chris, a father of two, who was being held in Mendocino County Jail, on a Texas felony warrant.  Chris is accused of having in his possession, fourteen grams of marijuana, including some cannabis concentrate, and was returned recently to Texas, to stand trial in the case.
A little over four grams of what he had, was hash, made from marijuana, and this is evidently the nail that is going to seal his coffin.  The presence of hash makes this an offense punishable by 5-99 years in a Texan prison, because it was deemed that he had it for sale.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.  California and Texas represent two sides of a coin.  On the one hand, both represent states in the greatest nation on earth, one which purports to be the land of the free.  On the other hand, anyone over the age of seven knows that Texas and California are as different as the yin and the yang.
I am an open-minded person, and I want to view this mild political controversy with as much balance as possible.  After all, Texas has no reason to treat Chris any differently than any other political prisoner, does it?  I want to believe that Texas genuinely sees marijuana as evil, and that a person in possession of it deserves to be incarcerated for life.  But the thought that Texas could be so medieval in its approach baffles me.  Is Texas living in a vacuum?  Are there not medical personnel in Texas to educate those in need, that medicine comes in many forms, and not all of them come from corporate America? 
Texas is accusing Chris of having traveled from Texas to Mendocino County, for the purpose of bringing back “drugs” for sale.  Texas evidently believes that it would have been lucrative for Chris to have made a round-trip journey in order to infuse the unwary Texan populace with four grams of hash, not even the exotically imported variety from Turkey, just the garden-variety type (no pun intended) grown right here in Mendocino County.
Chris has a legitimate, documented California medical cannabis prescription, to account for the presence of the herb in the first place.  Unfortunately for Chris, the medical prescription has no validity in Texas, a state that the home-made flyer insists is “evil.”  I don’t think of Texas as evil, so much as inept, a bumbling idiot, full of self-righteous bigotry, an image that puts Texas in a negative light.  This is the twenty-first century; if I were Texas, I think I would rather be thought of as evil, than bumbling, or inept. Mighty Texas as a buffoon?  This is not the image one might think Texas would embrace.
To compound the problem, Chris has suffered from asthma since age two, and requires constant medical attention.  The flyer includes a statement from Chris’s doctor, stating simply that “Chris being sent to Texas is a death sentence.”  The flyer went on to say that he was denied basic health needs and medical treatment in the Mendocino County jail, with not even a rescue inhaler on hand to contend with the rigors of his medical condition.
Why bigotry?  The flyer states that the “Texas Highway Patrol admitted to profiling California license plates” in pulling Chris over in the first place.  In essence, Chris is guilty of calling California home, and that merited a look-see by the constabulary.  Yes, they found what they were looking for, and now two kids don’t have a dad in the home any longer, and there’s the real crime.  
By inflicting a narrow and antiquated law on its citizens and those of different states, Texas demonstrates that it is impervious to what is normal and decent.  “We’ll teach you people what happens when you bring 'drugs' into our state.”  It’s like the parent saying to the child, “Why?  Because I said so.”  More pertinently, it’s like a dude shoplifting at a liquor store, and emerging with a pack of baseball cards.  Only there are two children, and they are now without a father in the home.  If there is a crime being committed here, it’s one being perpetrated by the law enforcement agencies of Texas.  
As the cards are dealt, Texas holds all the aces, and Chris is a joker.  The only problem is that the pot contains the ante of two children’s lives, and that is too steep a price to pay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

To Gingst or not to Gingst

To Gingst or not to Gingst
Word verifications is a topic that has been screaming at me to address.  It all began when I first started visiting Ess Stauss’s site, where she asks to be kept appraised of the more unique verification words (which shall be heretofore referred to as vw’s) we encounter.  I bet she has a nice cache of collectible vw’s.  Personally, I am still pondering the eternal question of why this process is necessary.
Bear with me, if I am the only person who does not understand how “spam,” which I thought meant unwelcome e-mails, has anything to do with blogs.  Why would a company want to thrust its message into people’s private space, when such an intrusion would be met with understandable resistance?  More pertinently, why do the vw’s have to be so doggone challenging? 
I almost never penetrate the wall the first time through.  I can not differentiate between lower case l’s and capital I’s.  See, I bet that was confusing; maybe I should have typed (word-processed?)  the difference between lower case L’s and Upper Case i’s.  Frequently, I have to try three times to leave a comment.  But I persevere, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.
Often it is not the word itself, but the timing.  My best, hands down, but one I was understandably hesitant to share, came after posting a comment on a heart-wrenching piece of writing about the complexities of alcohol addiction.  My vw?  “stoli.” I can’t make this stuff up; I’m not that creative.
After reading about a piece in which there was great bustling and industry described, my vw was buslbisy.  I would have settled for busl or bisy, and I got them both.  Another thing I like to do, is either pose or answer rhetorical questions that I have formed from hyphenating two words.   “I got the word togingst.”  I immediately thought, “To gingst, or not to gingst, that is the question.  The beauty lies in attaching any definition to “gingst” that I want.  Today “gingst” happens to be, “aimlessly pursue any course of action that I choose, so long as I do not leave my folding chair by the kitchen fire.”  So I have been gingsting for the past three hours, thank you very much.
When I encountered “scrubbl,” I immediately pictured a team of medical personnel, sitting around in their scrubs, playing Scrabble.  
It is an entertaining game for a guy who is fascinated with words, because I am not bound by dictionary or thesaurus.  I enjoy my encounters with this new form of entertainment and look forward to future revelations by Ess Stauss, something along the lines of “greatest hits,” or even different categories, from most original, to most timely. 

Maybe we should organize a vw olympics, where we compete for “best of” categories.  “Please submit your entry by no later order to qualify for this years’s cherished vw awards.”  
Winners to be announced April First.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Middle of What?

The Middle of What?
I read a comment the other day in which the writer mentioned being a middle child.  In the middle of things is generally perceived as a positive thing, because who wants to be on the outside, looking in?  I have three older brothers and three younger brothers, which is right in the middle of seven sons, with two “little sisters” mixed into our family baseball lineup of life.
Having three older brothers while growing up, is like having three directors running the show.  Oldest brother Eric was unquestionably the leader, already taller than the rest, and accustomed to being at the helm of the ship (rowboat?).  Brian was the smartest, the vowels of his first name having been accidentally reversed on his birth certificate, but Noel was the funnest, the one most likely to direct both of us into trouble. 
Competing with those three guys, along with the usual competition encountered when younger siblings arrived on the scene, was a full-time job, and one that Mama reports in my baby book, that I pursued diligently.  
“Look at me!” was what it was all about.  I used to play this very fun (read, obnoxious) game called, “Touch me in five seconds I will...” fill in the blank with any of the following:  “...give you a quarter...give you a dollar..give you a million dollars...” and the winner... “do the dishes for you the dishes for you for the rest of your life...”
The resulting chaos of kids springing up from all over the room, from [mostly younger] siblings, was enough to bring me into focus all right, but not in a favorable way.  Eric christened me Clown, or Clownie; Brian called me Babe or the Babe, and there was no connection to baseball; Noel to his credit, called me Markus Aurelius, since he was no one to be bandying pejorative terms about, having established new horizons himself, as far as mischievous behavior is concerned. *
When you talk about the middle, there are many negative connotations.  Consider “middle brow” as lacking in intelligence or sophistication; “middle of the road” as someone who can’t make up her/his mind; “middle class” as someone who has crawled out of the lower echelon, but not made it to upper class yet; “middle name” as the unimportant one, the one that Mama’s maiden name always ends up attached to in some poor kid’s name.  And how about middle-aged spread?  There’s an uplifting thought.  
Then I chose a career in the middle school, working with kids who were caught in the middle of being children, and being adults.  It was a crystal clear case of the blind leading the blind.
Tack on the “middle of the pack,” the “middle of nowhere,” or the “middle of the pile,” and it spells average at best, and mediocre at worst.  I spent a lot of my younger life looking for the real me.
Now that I have found him, he is no longer willing to be in the middle.  He wants to be at the edge.  He feels that if he is in the middle, he is taking up too much space.  But there’s plenty of room on the edge, if you care to join me.
*  See my blog under July for Fellowship Street: Sound the Alarm    and   Fellowship Street, The Plum Tree