The Greenhouse
My Friends Have Mostly Been Women
I had male friends when I was a kid.  When I was boisterously pubescent, a throbbing dick with aspirations of morphing into an international jewel thief - then I had guy friends.  They understood where I was coming from, knew the hormones that wracked and ruined my days and nights.  Friends who were girls would not have taken me seriously.  I understood that and I did not talk to girls - not to mention they moved in chattering coveys that both terrified and disgusted me.  Life is so simple when we absolutely don't understand a blessed thing.

Disgusted is too strong a word.  I did not understand that girls were intent on tying the strings that held community together; they were lacing the net that would contain us all.  I understood Hemingway and Errol Flynn, not social cohesion.  Still, I did realize that I would not be the dominant male, the one who mounted every fecund honey to promulgate the race, a hoarse cry deep in his throat.  Ernest and Errol were barely visible from my quotidian place, dim figures in the fog of gunsmoke and drunken passion.  I had about 3 friends.  Each of us knew we weren't "that" guy.  No, "that" guy was a star quarterback, and he boffed cheerleaders while we stickied up the pages of magazines that aallmmoosstt showed the nipple - not quite, but damned close.

Men puzzled me.  They were about certainties, sureities, knowing 'what was what!'  My world seemed to be composed of jars of questions on the shelves of my brain.  Men took my jars and dumped the contents out; they drank the wine-of-boastfulness from the empties.  I was fortunate in the Navy.  My unit was very small, about 30 men, basically chosen for having some language skills and an I.Q. over 125.  We knew this because we had each earned entry into the program by scoring well on a battery of tests everyone took in bootcamp.  The scores were public; everyone knew your ranking in the middle class white male world of belowdecks.  The division was as close as you might get in an all male setting to having women around.  There were men in there that I truly loved.  Our living situation aboard ship was so close that I could hear every enlisted man in the division breathing at night.  I could hear a man cough in his sleep and tell you who it was.  Living that close will either cause homicide or a near-blood bonding.  Afterward I never found men like that again.  When not forced into a tight society men take more space than women.  Men are very hard to get to know.  And after the Navy I had not yet found out about women.  I think I suffered from anomie.  Probably beats the hell out of acne. 

This conversation of ours comes about because I have recently been forced to socialize with a male-male person.  He is a buffoon.  An idiot.  A spouter of tele-think.  He wears the mask of male preeminence taught to him by his father, older brothers, cajonied-cousins - all the role models that had shown him how a man holds himself.  In middle age he has the mask and has learned well the coincident postures.  I think he imagines himself a man's-man, and I also think there is nothing behind the mask, his face like the motel sign that is flashing "vacancy", his ersatz pulse.  When he dies he will not become lighter as his soul takes wing; not even by the weight of a last breath will he free any useful energy into the common mixing bowl.

There is little grace in me.  Kicking and screaming I resist this 'social obligation'.  It has come about because the Guild of Weavers, or at least their agent assigned specifically to me,  has put this man's dance card by my plate; I will be expected to waltz after dining.  Acquiescence is my only viable option.  The frowning guild-agent is the cook, the fulcrum, the holder of my hand on dark nights....  So, why don't I just acquiesce and shut up?  Ah, there is the old rub.  I look at him and am afraid I resemble him.  I know I can be loud, scandalous, opinionated; I can be very male.  Women understand about men like him; this comforts me a touch.  They smile sunny dissembling little smiles and nod that he is an oaf, but they see how much I am like him.  I feel infected, and the cure is not written but woven.

This thought comes about from Zoe's last visit.  She was with us for almost 3 weeks.  She is not afraid to point out to me where my rough corners lie - truly a daughter to be valued, and since she has a few of her own there can be sparks.  I must listen when women speak to me - oh, I may not listen well if they aren't sharp and funny, but when they are, I must take heed.  I find that I bully.  I don't mean to bully, but I do seem to have a large footprint, and I can be somewhat heedless of where I step.  I claim it is due to enthusiasm.  If I were just a few years younger I could feel misunderstood - the perhaps overly emphatic  but well-meaning fellow ringed by humorless critics.  But that really isn't in it this time:  I know, I can be a real pushy son of a bitch.

Maybe my saving grace is my age?  In ten weeks I join the Medicare Rolls.  My sense of entitlement swells at the thought.  Now I can help even more in bankrupting your grandchildren before they are even conceived - since I don't have any of my own to ruin.  Pat has some sort of insurance plan that takes the money from Medicare and pays the doctor bills and then actually makes a profit for the company.  I cannot, personally, see how they do it.  Would you want to pay my medical bills?  Don't answer! - you will anyway; I am entitled to it. 

So having left the looming debt-driven financial collapse of America behind let me get to the insurance guy.  He came out to the house to sign me up for the same plan Pat has.  We were talking about gardens - I showed him the greenhouse and he said "oh, musta been a lotta work."  He was not impressed.  And we talked about chickens. 

"Why chickens?" he asked. 

"Protein is the most expensive part of a diet and the hardest thing to get.  Chickens lay eggs." 

His eyes got dreamy and he smiled wistfully.  "I love eggs.  I can eat eggs 3 or 4 times a day.  I like them over easy on biscuits, and scrambled with a little butter.  I like eggs poached on golden toast.  I love eggs fried and slipped into sandwiches.  Boiled eggs with mayonnaise to make egg salad.  I like eggs with bacon and with ham."  He licked his lips and slowly closed the paperwork..   I was all signed up to be another burden on society.

My editor read the above, in zero tolerance proofread mode, and commented:  "that isn't what he said."  She proofreads before reading for content and is all critical assessment, though it is usually my grammar that gives her fits.

I am not a reporter.  The absolute truth of things does not interest me - nor does it most of us unless it is so weird that it just couldn't be true, but is; then it is perceived as extra wonderful, almost magic made manifest.  My writing is what I call anecdotal.  Having tried writing fiction I know I just don't have the imagination to make up really good stuff, but I do have some knack for sifting things that actually happen in order to clarify my view.  My hope is to try and elucidate what was going on in the subtext; there is always a subtext.  The best thing Woody Allen - not a favorite of mine, did was the movie where he had the subtext running under the verbal conversation as subtitles - two different worlds.   An interaction, usually with another person, seems ripe to me; something unspoken is in the air, or my brain thinks so, and then I elaborate, magnify, exaggerate. 'What really happened' is only backdrop for what might have been happening. 

The affect this interaction has on my perceptions is what matters, at least to me.  And if I do it well enough, scribbling my anecdote, then maybe it matters to you too.  We all do this.  We love to take a rumor and add a bit of hyperbole before passing it on.  Funny is good; malice is not.  Something hits your brain and is immediately transformed by all your preconceptions and former experience, and even the way your head is wired, into 'other'.  That 'other' is usually more interesting than what provoked it.   'Other' is your own private riff on reality.  Everyone is riffing 'other' all the time.  Communication is fraught because each of us is sending and receiving messages all our very own. 

For example, an incredibly exotic, beautiful woman walks up and says:  "I've been wanting to meet you."  That is reasonably neutral in its own right, but what happens in your head?  Whether you are man or woman you will likely have a big gut reaction:  disbelief, anger, envy, desire, shame.  Something will happen inside your head; suddenly this small encounter becomes other. You have created your own magic.   It is wonderful!   Wonderful until you confuse what happened for others, the sort of consensus view,  with what 'you' thought happened, and you react untowardly.  The giant faux pas  emerges from your mouth.  Our patterns of social cohesion should prevent that.   My own patterns are somewhat frayed and untrustworthy.

An example of this that really tickled my fancy comes from a blog by a young man named Noah Cicero.  I ran into him through Charles Hugh Smith's blog and liked his style and attitude so much I have become an avid reader.  He almost makes Dayton, Ohio sound interesting. This excerpt is from a tale of a flat tire and looking for a jack in the rain.

We asked the cop if he had a jack.

He said, "I have two shot guns, tear gas, a gas mask, a bullet proof vest, four stun                        guns, a bazooka and a dead hooker but no jack."

I loved that.  Noah is riffing on what a cop might look like to a guy on the street.  The cop's line is full of images; the patrolman on the beat is gone and Homeland Security has arrived.  A full half of "to protect and to serve" has gone missing; the half that is left has ominous overtones.  I get the feeling this encounter, or something like it, actually happened.  It is not made up; it is an anecdote.   It is right up my alley.  There is an element of magic in there.

Pat emailed her brother Bo yesterday with birthday greetings.  He is turning 65 a few weeks ahead of me.  She told him she was glad he had made it halfway through the perilous seventh decade.  My ears pricked up as she read that to me.  "Is that the perilous decade?  the seventh?"  I asked. She arched an eyebrow at me:  "The perilous decade is whatever one you are in."  I liked that.  It spread the sense of urgency out a bit; even the young had reason to worry now.  Happy B-day, Bo!

We were wandering around the yard this morn with Waldo-leashed; the chickens are free-ranging this week.  Pat looked at the new greenhouse.  "Your Edifice Complex is showing," she said.  What about living with her is not to like? 

Except for a bit of caulking the edifice really is up.  At about 70 f. as the sun begins to warm us of a morning the solar-powered lifters began opening the 4 roof vents.  It is as if the greenhouse has wings and is about to take flight.  Around $400 of cedar is coming this week to make planter boxes for year-round veggie production.  Altogether we will be into this by about $12k when all is done.  Seems a lot but gold has been good to us.

On that subject, if you are in gold, and I really doubt many are; the barbarous relic  is viewed with such skepticism, I can only assure you that the recent dramatic price drops seem of little consequence to me.   My view is not short term.  Gold is real money.  The only real money.  All currencies in circulation are fiat  ; backed by nothing more than the goodwill of liars and thieves.  Where can we put our trust?  In that view the greenhouse is suddenly an actual investment.

The local rag has lately begun running articles on regional farming.  Readers are encouraged to see if they can't buy food grown closer to home than Chile or the San Joaquin Valley - and how about fuel from closer than the Straits of Hormuz?  The optimists in "the end of the world as we know it" (teotwawki) club are chattering alot lately about community.  This is one extremely hopeful message.  The huge bedroom communities, some rapidly becoming ghost towns, around metro areas become untenable as both the cost of transportation and the availability of jobs begins to shift, one up and one down.  'Driving distance' got redefined.  And small town America reemerges as a focal point of sustainable everyday existence.  Our comfort zone is contracting.  The popularity of chickens has boomed this year.  Restaurant chains are closing down or unable to meet their loan obligations and 'in talks'.  Life changes.  You should be taking notice.  I don't mean buying guns and digging your underground bunker.  I mean thinking whatever food-indepence, fuel-independence, community-centric efforts you can muster.

I will go off on a slightly didactic theme here:  there have been periods of population growth in Europe over the last several hundred years that had two features that seem inextricably linked to "more people."  One was the rising cost of food, and the other the rising cost of fuel.  You thought the present oil crisis was something new?  Naw.  The price of firewood went thru the roof for years at a time in Europe, as well as food, as the number of consumers expanded.  Expanding industries were as eager for firewood as those who liked a warm home.  None of it is new.  The birthrate goes up and society's fabric stretches.  Mark Twain said it:  "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

History really does tell us things about how we can live.  What is tells us about how we cannot live has heretofore been rather ignored, because we can live in ungainly fashion for quite a long time, building stresses into society that only slowly rend it.  Life becomes more difficult quite gradually and we hardly notice the change.  Each increment of worsening in the quality of life lies fairly close to the last.  We can take it.

Community is globalising, just like trade and war and culture have.  Community is globalising on the backs of bloggers.  I really didn't know much about the blogosphere until a year or two ago.  I figured it was mainly cranks with axes to grind and conspiracies to theorize on - or tips like the inimitable 'load the last round in you magazine as a tracer so you will know when your clip is empty.'  We are veering away from that cowboy frame of reference.  Many well-written and deeply-considered blogs are now touting community as the anodyne to economic upheaval.  Both of the ones I mention above are about optimism, about chickens, gardens, friends and family.  The apocalyptic scenario where the world just crumbles is being replaced with the belief that though the changes that are coming will be severe and cause hardships they can be dealt with.  With the wonder of the Internet community can now include people thousands of miles away who have never met; the solitary survivalist in the cave is passe. Adios, Rambo.

I should probably end this.  Anyone still reading may have a headache.  Life is fine here.  We are still getting too much rain, though less.  The garden chugs along, though a swamp.  The chickens, both groups, now share the coop at night with a moderate level of squawking protest and only a few lost tail feathers.  Neither side seems to notice that the Brahma kids are now bigger than the Red Star girls; size does not determine preeminence in the fowlest of worlds.  Chickens aren't politically savvy; they have not yet correlated absolute mass with the efficient use of blunt force trauma.  We leave that to our leaders.

Ara likes to get mentioned; he should be.  He has an interesting life.  I don't know him very well.  He hasn't wanted to be known until recently.  His morph was from nasty-tempered teen into boy-enigma.  He carried his cave around with him everywhere.  This changes, and the change is, as it must be, at his behest.  Ara has introduced me to 'chatting'.  We exchange little bits of nonsense and silliness at all hours as the mood strikes.  It works like email but is much simpler and less formal.  A bit like a phone conversation done in writing.  There is also one of the Net Weavers involved.  Her name is Natty.  I think maybe she has been sharp and funny and persistent enough to change his thinking about women as friends.  We will see.

Ara has problems with authority.  You might think this foreign to being an accountant, but he is somewhat headstrong.  He is having some difficulty with a manager who hovers and fault-finds.  The higher-ups wanted to talk to him about his recalcitrance.  Below is what he wrote to me.  It is an anecdote with some meat on its bones.

Oh and let me tell you the overwhelming rush of adrenalin when they said they wanted to talk was so over powering. My whole body was on fire and I thought my head was going to roll off and explode. I should have more of those blind sided meetings it was really quite exciting. It was a good thing it went on for and hour because it took a good twenty minutes for me to calm down and think straight. Now that was a high and no hang over!!!

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This page was last updated: August 18, 2008