Heard from an enthusiastic reader, which I always like, and even if it was my son, Ara, I count it as special; all my readers are special - well, moreso if they write and tell me what a jolly fellow I am. Ara said the Pat's Birthday letter was more hilarious than usual, and I like being thought funny, but he also hit the second part of what I like: insight. Batting a thousand, kid!
He asked if I was born with insight, and here I fear that he may credit me with more insight than I do actually possess, or if it comes with age; he says he would prefer the latter.
Feelings and thoughts we would rather not have, and would never admit to - we all got 'em, and we act in ways we don't understand and wish we could take back. Too few go questing to find out why we are this way. The easy answer lives in the old tattoos: Born to Hang; Born to Raise Hell; Born to Be Bad - all adorned with various daggers, skulls and other mythic runes of disaster and waste. Genetic predetermination as a blue collar excuse. "I was born this way; I can't help it; don't blame me!"
You might as well get the rest of the tattoos, fill out your resume: Born to Whine; Born to Pity the Self; Born to Be the Asshole Who Just Keeps Making the Same Really Stupid Mistakes Time After Time... look at the arms on that guy!!
"You're just like your daddy!" says big mama from the trailer door.
I do buy into the genetic side of the argument quite a lot, but not enough to allow a complete disavowal of personal responsibility. How about Born to Be A Banker, or Financial Engineer? I don't think so.
We do as we do with more cause than just that we slid down the chute that way coming into this world. After she marries the third drunk, a woman should really, really give some thought to what the payoff is. It is not impossible to ferret it out and do something different next time. So, what is the problem with developing some personal insight? Some rightly fear it. I air some of my own occasional insights in public, and they looks an awful lot like dirty laundry. More and more I don't really care. My act of self-examination can, I am certain, encourage others to accept their own foibles and really look at them, even if just a little. What else is life for? I ask myself in my spare time, which I have quite a lot of. Like the lady with the many staggering husbands, we all have repeating troubles to egg us on in dark moments.
I like to read mysteries, and I like one particular sort of author: the sober drunk. No one in our society has more practical reason to pursue, and practice at, being insightful. A sober drunk knows he teeters on the edge all the time. He has to dance to the music, and the tune is all questions and cautions. I love it when someone sees the dangers and isn't afraid to be afraid. I love it when they can communicate what they have learned about how a life is lived, and if the communication comes in a work of fiction, so much the better. What could possibly be more boring in this life than someone who thinks they know it all and can roll out a tray of certainties for every proposition? Yuck! Did the adventure of it all just up and die? For most people I think maybe it did. That's sad.
There is some aphorism that states we learn more from failure than from success. Some do. Others, most maybe, try to get the dust of failure under the rug as fast as possible. I know that it hurts, really hurts, to be exposed as an asshole, as weak, as a coward, as morally wrong. I also believe that those are in some sense moments to be savored, because in those times we come closest to some truth at our core. Sweep it under the rug at your own expense. Doesn't mean I haven't held the broom and lifted the rug; not at all. It does mean that now and then I own up and let the shit run and learn how to get thru it. Those are probably my best times.
It is certainly not my advocacy that everyone do this in public like I occasionally do. I have a very understanding wife, and even understanding children, who bear with me, know I really mean no harm and give me the credit for that. And I don't have a job that could go up in smoke if some of my writings found their way to the head office. Nor do I live in a tight and narrow community where public censure might crush me. Most of you don't have all that going for you. But that doesn't begin to excuse you from looking hard at who you are, and considering why. The why is tough. Muddy waters here; no clarity. But you can develop a skill at this business with practice. It is best to practice with someone who loves you.
And apropos of nothing else in the letter, I ran into insanity at Pep Boys. Came out of a cafe and found a flat tire. Got out the tools and finally got the flat off and spare on. Off to Pep Boys for my free flat fix. Told the girl at the counter the flat would go on the right rear. Forty-five minutes later I am on my way, having been told there hadn't been anything wrong with the tire. Next day I go to put the spare back on the tailgate rack - and I find my flat still in the back of the car and the spare still on the right rear. I really hate dealing with idiots! I am trying to see the humor in it...
Reminds me how a few years ago I could easily see the consequence of full employment when Greyhound drivers got so dumb they would deliver you to the wrong town - really! Bus company was hiring anybody who could get the door closed, the engine running, and find the gas pedal.
We were lately invited - they won't make that mistake again, to speak to a government fact-finding body: the topic was "Why I like my medicare advantage program and don't want Obama to cancel it". Such panels are held on any subject that comes under legislative purview and thus might generate votes. I went because Pat was going and wanted company. All in all it didn't sound like a very good idea to me. Whither thou goest, and you owe me big time sums it up from my end.
The gist of the meeting, which was for input to some of Maine's elected officials, was that ordinary citizens would voluntarily come forth to offer almost-unsolicited personal attestation as to why a particular federal program was so wonderful that everything - defense spending, education, bailouts for bankers, should be cut to ribbons before the old folk, Pat and me, got our much-deserved medical coverage sliced and diced. My problem, other than not trusting the government and not liking much to be around people I don't know and am fairly sure are sneaky creeps with spinning on their minds, was that I really didn't have a lot to say in defense of my perks.
No, I don't relish getting sick and dying in an alley because I can't afford care, but I do have to wonder how in the hell anyone thinks the feds can keep funding all this stuff by printing more money. Peter and Paul are both stone broke and have asked Judas for a loan. Nobody in the government wants to think about this, so I will - just out of sheer willfulness. Does any federal program, whether my life, or yours, might depend on it really pass the sustainability test? Can it continue at present levels without ripping the guts out of the society we leave for our kids? I don't think so. Those that govern simply aren't interested in tomorrow - read 'future consequences', when the votes are being counted, and power handed out, today.
A lady-volunteer spoke, ad nauseum, about her miraculous recovery from her Jobian bed, slipping in and out of the iron lung when she turned blue, and being on massive medications just to keep a thin trickle of blood pumping thru her beleagured, but beautiful, heart, and then - due to the Medicare Advantage Program, (Trumpets, please!!) arising from said bed to run marathons. Well, something like that. Slightly mentioned in all this was that this corpulent soul had lost 60 pounds - gee, could that have anything to do with it? You don't suppose that just finally taking responsibility for herself might be the beeg reason for health returned?
Oh, my! These political fellows were falling out of their shiny shoes to tell her what a miracle and a marvel she was: Poster child for the efficacy of Federal programs. These guys didn't just have a fish on the line, they had a cash cow. ("Tell the voters we're on it!", they shriek. "Elect the People's Candidate!")
That might all sound ill-tempered on my part but this lady would not shut up, and all that she said was the same thing over and over and over, her grin widening, but not her ideas. While as ready as any to applaud her losing some weight and getting her life back I did have the distinct feeling that her story was for sale to the oiliest advocate who could make the payoff she needed - self-importance. A greater payoff, I fear, than the satisfaction of simple decent health.
I must confess here that the thrust of her argument, that the particular program we citizens were at the meeting to defend really had impelled her towards the gym, which act probably had gone a good ways toward saving her life, had a simulacrum of validity, but why in the hell hadn't she gotten off her lardy duff sooner and and simply started taking care of herself without federal aid? I am not very sympathetic, am I? But these politicos, who frighteningly enough actually had input to the federal government, were about to award this woman a Hero of Health medal and get her her own t.v. show. They are responsible for writing public policy and seeing it turned into law? Lawd'a mercy. I swear I don't believe any law ever produces a desired effect unless those who fall under the law have a great willingness to make it so.
The human marvel went on and on, rising from a simmer to a boil on the heaped fuel of glowing praise, and then it was indicated that it was my turn to speak. Not having much to add to her wondrous account of what-the-feds-did-for-me I launched into a rather ill-presented and awkward discourse on fiscal sanity. I said we needed funding if we were to have any programs at all, or hoped I said that, and launched into the idea that a decriminalization of street drugs would be one way to free up huge government resources for more productive activities and actually generate some revenue, such as in taxes on grass sales. That was the sort of program which needed addressing, not the maintainence of unaffordable giveaways.
When I was finished nobody wanted to offer me a medal....duh. No one actually spoke directly to what I had said. The soldier-of-god seated across from me at the conference table just about shat himself saying something to the effect that he, at least, was not so depraved as to subscribe to anything that had been said - I won't mention which god, or which army. Most likely both my plea for fiscal sanity and my example, decriminalizing drugs, were both anathema to these folk. Pavlov had me on both counts: gimme-gimme and god's mandates; any god, all gods. My only wish was that I were verbally faster on my feet and could have made a better presentation. But an extemporaneous speaker I am not. And that was my adventure with beeg government.
The Ramshackle brothers just dropped by for a moment of fast talk and hilarity. One is pretty bright and in a different world would have gone to a university; the other is not academic material but is always smiling and of generally sweet disposition. They presented themselves at my door a few weeks back to point out some deficiencies in the Forseyengland infrastructure: the barn was going on roofless and falling down, the attached shed sliding away from it at an alarming angle, and other such cogencies, were the presented facts. Visual verification was established and we started to talk job and price. Rotted window frames and siding, and doors that no longer quite closed were examined with gravity and mumbled over, mostly by me. My guilt was the cream in their coffee.
They have been at work off and on at our place since mid-June. All the money has been paid, frequently twenty bucks at a time for a beer run, and some of the work has been done. Before you shake your head and drop me a line on how I have been taken let me tell you that we are the new Oregon. I think I saw 4 sunny days in June, and we are scheduled for another yellow-alert day on 8 July - sunscreen sales have picked up on the rumor. Meanwhile, on the back of the deluge, work slows to the crawl of a beaten puppy. Some days the brothers show up to commiserate with me on what they cannot presently do but still think about doing. This morning was such a visit. They were pulling a beat-to-shit trailer, with one flat tandem tire, on their way to haul junk cars, and they needed to borrow some tools. There you go - you are shaking your head again...
To diverge only slightly,it has been my long-held belief that as individuals we own too many tools. I am raising my hand; I am guilty. These tools should be shared. I really do believe that. Not that I am ready to donate Chuckles Kubota to a community tool bank and get to see him for 6 hours every other month during our alloted together-time, but he really does need to be out there doing more. And I know my welding tanks will come back as soon as the brothers are done with them.
I spent a day with Chuckles spreading gravel for a neighbor last week in trade for the apples from his neglected orchard. Cider calls to me and I have just received my father's day premium of two books on all aspects of this venture. The book on making my own apple grinder and cider press has been ordered, too. Pat says Mr. Toad is on the road. My only defense is that I really, really do need to be engaged with my surroundings. Without such I will wither, I fear.
One aspect of my connection with the Ramshackels that offers me undue gratification is that these guys are true Mainers. They have learned the skills to fix, or somehow make use of, almost anything.
I noted in New Mexico how satisfying it was to keep running into folk that had the ability to repair anything to run another day. It was there that I taught myself some basic masonry, welding and mule-raising. Stitzel was a good time for me; I was still possessed of joints that could haul heavy rock for hours a day. When you hit your fifties don't think you aren't still young, and I expect I will say that about my sixties when in my seventies.
Mainers are of the same stock as New Mexicans; there is an independence about them that nourishes my belief in the viability of our species. These guys have families and the winters are long and cold and normal paychecks scant; I am pleased to do what I can to support them. They are under the radar scofflaws: under-employed who don't show up in government statistics, don't make enough reportable income to bail out the IRS, will go to E.R. when they need medical care, evade any permit fee they can, do business and don't pay business taxes.
It is a broken system we live in and these are my kind of people. They understand sustainability in a way politicos never will. They belong to a community of real people used to getting by, tied by both blood and need, and they will survive; fixers for broken times. I cannot claim they are always environmentally friendly or completely conscious of public safety, but I can tell you that if you need a neighbor these are the guys you want nearby. Do they sometimes drink too much and get into fights? Do they owe back child support? Do they sport jailhouse tats? Most likely, but they aren't the reason the system is broken. Folk of power and privelege and high education can take that credit. Which group would you rather have fix your roof on just a handshake? It's a no-brainer.
On the garden front things really suck. Actually, that noise is me trying to lift one foot after another on my walkabout. The corn looks good - I don't see 'knee high by the fourth of July'. They might get to 6 inches. The little plants have built small row boats and I can hear them calling out: "PULL! PULL!" They are only trying to stay in place until the sun returns. The tomatoes hate the too-wetness of it all and have wilted, spotted, droppy leaves. Other stuff, squash, peas, beans and berries are hanging in. The blueberries look great; I need to put more of them in next winter. And I am trying to see where we have the highest ground, the no-swamp areas that will take some apple trees, the bitter, inedible cider-sort.
The greenhouse is doing better, except for the lack of sun, but suffers from poor planning. The lettuces are booming and we cannot eat enough salad to even dent their green ranks. Way more curly kale than we can deal with. Peas ok but not a good greenhouse fit. Beets coming along. Nastursiums in bloom. Specialty broccoli that never formed heads but just bolted overnight torn out and composted.
I will get the late summer planting, for winter harvest, together this year. That I can get right. I am so sure of it.
Waldo and Shay do well. Waldo is pretty chipper and Shay is on pain meds twice a day and weekly glucosamine injections and holding her own. Neither of them seem to feel that they have offended the gods and must suffer. The bedraggled chickens have muddy feet but don't seem to mind, though egg production is off.
Ara has only one more exam to pass to achieve his CPA status as another living acronym. Natty looks for work but yearns to go back to school and get her PhD. And the family gypsy, Zoe, is actually leaving NYC in a month to live wherever the wind blows her, when she isn't flying. Flying has been good lately; lots of troops are going to Kyrgyzstan and need her smiling face to bundle them along. It is a strange new world.
All the best from pat, don, etc.