It was like voices from the past, not remembered quite, but always present, the murmur of blame.  They weren't my voices, but belonged to others.  Their baggage. Their humiliation.  Harsh, diminishing voices that cut a person down until he/she is reduced to congealing into a hard nugget of anger inside.  I think the voices are most often a dark echo of parents'.

My first brush with parking-lot rage happened at Wally World yesterday - yes, I do shop there sometimes, and yes, I am the scum of the earth.  Let's just move on.

It is my preference to back into spaces when I park in busy lots.  I really like to see when I am pulling out; that is usually the fluid situation.  Not this time.  A car was about to leave its space; I pulled past it to wait to back in.  Before the parked car got out another had pulled up nose toward the soon-to-be-empty space.  I put my car in reverse to flash my backup lights so my intentions would be clear.  The parked car left and the car behind me slid into the space.  Slightly irritated I gave a brief remonstrative tap to my horn and moved on down the lot.

As I walked back up the line I saw a somewhat hard-bitten bottle-blonde standing behind the car that had usurped my spot. She was in her fifties and had earned every year.  I caught her eye, shook my head, and gently said "discourteous."

"Are you the guy!!??"  She demanded.  I agreed I was and was very shortly informed that I was a pinhead, a peabrain and an asshole to boot.  When I tried to talk to her I became a whiner, her disdain scathing.  I still tried to talk to her and she started chanting "go away! go away!  go away!"

I am not verbally fast on my feet, or with my tongue either, and can rarely come up with the commensurate riposte.  Lost for words I said "You are a 'real' bitch.', and went into the store.  Not my best reply ever.

Pat came to mind.  I was glad she wasn't there.  In very few words she would have escalated this quite furious woman into physical attack mode or reduced her to tears.  Neither were needed.  When I left the store I looked for her again, wanting to apologize for having spoken rudely to her.  She was not about.

What caught me in all this was seeing that the woman's face was like a movie screen, and I could dimly perceive someone up there larger than life calling her the very things she had called me, someone she was powerless to defend herself from.  A fragment of her past, a bit of personal history, had been opened to me all unwittingly.  It was sad she had been used thus and was so determined to pass it on.  She carried this information with her openly, like a bubble filled with words above the head of a cartoon figure.

This exchange brought to mind the one incident of road-rage I had experienced.  It was a few years ago.  A car sped up and squirted in ahead of me in a lane meld; it then suddenly stopped in front of me on the onramp, next  accelerated away, and then just as suddenly stopped again.  A muscular, young man with the Maine-look, shaved head and goatee,  got out and charged at me.   Mystified but apprehensive I got out too.  He began to yell at me quite fervidly about being cut off and treated like shit.  He said I had tapped his bumper with my own.   I well may have tapped him in between his stops as I touched the gas when he did his stop-start-stop routine.  Driving a 3/4 ton p.u. I had not felt it.  I looked at his car and could see no point of contact.  I mentioned this and he was furious that I thought his car was a piece of shit while I drove a shiny big truck.  I had said none of that; it was all inner subtext.

Not wanting to get beaten and left bloodied on the verge I was quiet and civil, kept my hands down and said little.  His yelling diminished and he calmed, but before he could give it up entirely he reached over and hit me lightly in the ribs and said "Don't be an asshole all your life!" 

Then, too, I felt as if I had looked into someone's past and seen ugly moments.  Old tapes I call them.  When you are in a conversation, often with a loved one, and you say something, something you've said before to no gain, and 'the usual' gets said back, well,  you can see the entirety of what follows unrolling like a script set indelibly down, unavoidable,  and the end is not desirable - you are running an old tape.  Unless you both realize this and come up with new tapes things corrode. 

We imbibe these tapes practically with breast milk.  They are conversational set pieces with which we wage war, even when we don't want to fight, especially with those we care about.  Old tapes are very strong. We maintain this library with fierce obstinacy.  I had seen old tapes on an onramp and in a parking lot and there was no way to move past them into sanity.  It is not the time to get cued and dive into the script when a stranger invites you to play.  It is time to be humble before the extent of the forces that have shaped this coming fight to the death.  It is time to back out and let it remain a one-person play, a not so simple suicide.

one too many google searches......

Have you ever done a google search and regretted it?  Information is not always benign. 

When I worked for the California Department of Corrections in 1980 I was the night nurse at CMC, a medium security facility of 2400 inmates; it is located in geographic heaven, between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay on the midcoast.  Within the walls the terrain alters; the best advice is to believe no one, trust no one, give no emotional context to anything that happens inside the gates.

Despite all that I was told I made a friend in that place.  Smitty was a young, bright, funny black kid without a mean bone in his body who worked the night shift with me as an orderly.  He was no innocent, but neither was he bad.  Two friends had invited him along on a robbery, he went; he didn't like what was happening and left.  After he left one of his companions shot and killed a clerk.  Being technically guilty of more than just bad judgement Smitty went down for 7 years on murder one. The actual gunman, according to Smitty, had received a much lighter sentence for rolling over on someone else.  It was a deal offered all around and only Smitty had refused.

What grabbed me about Smitty was that he lacked any bitterness.  I cannot begin to imagine what his life was like out in the population.  It was a place I never went; my duties were strictly confined to the 50 bed hospital and its potpourri of the sick, the traumatized and those who hid.  He was well-liked, respected and had somehow learned to walk a middle path that gave him some measure of safety.  I don't know what it had cost him to achieve this safety, but he seemed to have managed it without sacrificing his store of good will and hope.

A year was all I could take there; I didn't fit well on the enforcement side of the equation.  I did things like buy Xmas presents for my orderlies and share my food with them; I was always suspect, watched as being too close to crossing over into the 'them' side of the 'us-them' equation.  Smitty got out the next year and since I was living in his hometown of Oakland we met a time or two.  His intention was to go to school and become a Psychiatric Technician and work with prisoners in the state's mental health facility at Atascadero.  This seemed a very hopeful choice.

Apparently it was for many years, and then yesterday Smitty came to mind and I googled him out of curiosity.  How many guys could there be named Konolus Smith?  Just one that came up, and I felt very bad.  It was like looking down into a bucket of broken dreams.  I do not know what happened in Smitty's life, what the circumstances were this time, but I see over a quarter of a century without any problems, and then I see a 25 year sentence for a man in his fifties.  He is no longer the cocky kid I knew and liked.  I hope he has the reserves to deal with this as well as the first time around.

the way you do the things you do.............
like a dream sequence:

Waldo & I are traveling in tandem.  He is leading.  An unfortunate thing being that he is preverbal and the directions he indicates are doggy and murky.  We do not move in any sort of geographic space, but in a terrain that is strictly emotional.  I think his large eyes speak to me.  I anthropomorphize without pity.  I weep for us both.

And it is not a dream; Waldo is dying.  Maybe I am far ahead of the facts and he is dying only in the sense that we all are.  Might seem trite, but if you close in on the nub of that axiom its face changes quickly to desolate.  For the last few months he has had periods lasting a day or two, of listlessness and no appetite.  We finally seemed to get a handle on these symptoms 3 weeks ago with a positive antibody test for Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever.  In the meantime his left front leg went kaflooey.  X-rays and a neuro exam were essentially negative.  He had simply lost most of the use of a leg.  But the last three weeks, limp and all, have been great.  The antibiotics appear to work.  His appetite is good.  He bounds around on three legs, alert and inquisitive - that seems a safer word than happy though he did seem happy. 

Saturday morning he was down again.  In three days he has eaten and drunk almost nothing.  He can barely walk.  I manage to get him out to pee once every 24 hours.  Last night I thought he was gone, but this morning he ate a hot dog, drank some water and looks more alert.  There is one more antibiotic to try; I have a call in to the vet to see if I can get it in injectable form and give it here at home. 

We are hundreds of dollars into his diagnosis and treatment.  One trip was to a neurology clinic downstate.  They have an MRI and CAT scan; they have diagnostics that turn hundreds of dollars into a mere downpayment.  The neurologist was understanding.  We make triage choices on our pets that we cannot on our own kind.  She said that further diagnostics might well point to treatments that would most assuredly not improve the quality of his life, just its length.  I think maybe we are looking at the simple solution here.  We should know soon.  Pat will be home on Thursday.  We can talk about it.

Just the other day we visited a backyard breeder; Pat had gotten his number from the paper.  He was selling off a litter of the loveliest boxer puppies.  She picked out a male and said she wanted to call him Waldo..........was that really several years ago?

I don't know if time is kinder, or unkinder, to us as we get older.  I only know it is more immediately fleeting.

Home from the vet and things are more hopeful.  Got bags of Ringer's Lactate to hang if he continues not to drink.  Didn't realize how easy it is to hydrate a dog:  insert a large, 18ga., needle into a fold of skin on the back of the neck and run it wide open.  For his weight 600ml. once a day is prescribed.  Not today, though, as after his first dose of oral doxycycline and hot dog he drank quite a bit of water.  Here we are on the soft and sunny upswing, happy as clams - until the next relapse.  We wait upon the great dog god for further illumination.  May all our relapses be few, far between and mild as a mother's breath.  May we all live well and die later rather than sooner.

So, this letter almost seemed to get out of hand for a time.  Maybe it should come with a rating:  Triple S (SSS), for sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow.  But Waldo is perkier and so am I.  Pat comes home soon from greeting the new redhead of her clan into the world:  Jack Hilliard.  She has been away too long, for both of us.  I really must vacuum and do some laundry before she arrives.  Sloth prevails in her absence.

The greenhouse comes along. Laid out half inch Pex radiant heat tubing in a grid of tubes running parallel every 4 inches at about the 6 inch level (from the top of the soil) in my cedar planter boxes and covered the grid with loam.  The grids feed off a distribution manifold that, in turn, is fed from a 3/4 inch line from the wood boiler in the basement.  One manifold is the hot feed and the other is the out-take.  I have three zones of planter boxes I can control separately.  The soil temp in the boxes gets up to 100F, but I haven't seen any plants averse to this yet.

The plantings are about 6 weeks old and growing slowly due to diminished sunlight.  I have tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and beets in.  Pat's carrots in an unheated box are still going great. They had a good headstart and the soil hasn't frozen yet.  The air temp over the heated boxes has so far stayed above freezing.  Maybe my plants will grow slowly until spring and then kick into hi gear.  It will be interesting to see how low the outside temp can go without getting a freeze inside the greenhouse.  This is a winter of experimentation.  From what I see of November's activity by March we will begin fostering a jungle of veggies.

The trench from a basement daylight window to the greenhouse looked like a seventy-five foot long headache, and then I thought to hook up the p.t.o. tractor post hole digger and drop a series of 3 foot deep holes in an almost continuous line.  Shoveling out the inbetweens and cleaning the trench wasn't bad.  I laid in the two hot water lines, out and back, a half inch line for well water, and a heavy electrical cable.  I put a layer of two inch insulation foam over it all and refilled.  Everything works swell.  Inside the greenhouse I have water to a spigot and 2 120volt outlets in a ground fault interrupt outdoor box.  Hooking it all up in the basement was another story and if anyone has questions on using a wood boiler to radiant heat a greenhouse I will help as I can.  I seem to have a well-functioning system, and I had to make it up as I went.  Ain't so hard.  No real info online for this sort of project, not that I could find.  The wood furnace which had proved too big to heat the house without producing frequent unwanted steam meets its match when the greenhouse is added in as a dump zone.  I can literally fill the wood box with logs and not have to look in again for a few hours.  Everything toasty and the oil boiler comes on only rarely when I haven't added wood in a timely fashion.  The low-tech backup is getting there; still have a continuous demand for electrical current to run the tiny circulator pumps.  Deep cycle batteries on a solar charger might be worth a look - someday.

Other than the above-stated sorrows all things go well.  Leaves are down; I haven't raked a bit and will have a lot to do next spring if this laziness goes on.  Nothing but a couple of hard freezes, down to 22F, and rain so far. A mild autumn, but by 1600 it is starting to darken out. Chickens laying a bit less but busy all the day long foraging for bugs on their acre.

And then there is the outside world. Things go rapidly downhill in the economy.  We remain Mainely insulated until our retirements are impinged.  I try to plan for it. 

For years I have been telling folk the sky would fall and now that it is collapsing around those deaf ears I don't see a lot to say.  I hope our new president has better sense than those presently in charge.  Though I am sure he is bright and anointed with integrity I don't assume he will be able to change much.  I liked Jimmy Carter, too, and he got flushed.  Integrity and honesty and goodheartedness are not currently any match for the slick greed and corruption that hold center stage.  Guns, money and ruthless intent rule the day and are not easily derailed.  

The one thing to be said, through clenched teeth, is that we now live within history as epic and amazing as anything in the old books; we actually live in this unfolding.  Usually I think people can only claim this with veracity when they speak of living through huge conflicts, or wars.  In that sense this is a war we are now experiencing; not with such well-defined enemies as the Nazis, or the Saracens, a different sort of world war where the lines are ambiguous by intent. Globalization has muddied all the boundary lines.  I hope this conflict will remain very limited in the extent of its physical violence. 

The biggest problem is that those in power will want to maintain control; the way they do this is to frighten the public to such an extent that people will abide any abridgement of their liberties in order to feel safe.  Much will be lost - jobs, homes, industries, money, resources, but I would hope the liberty to make our own choices goes last.  I don't speak of this country only.

Reminds me of a favorite movie line.  Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past:  "I may die but I'm gonna go last."  He was always a warrior in some cause.

I will leave off here.  It is 1700, quite dark, the chickens are locked in for the night, and only Rocky the cat is carrying on.  Another calm night in the country.  don, pat, and all other species, both sentient and hopeful.
this letter stutters....
The beginning of this letter was written while Pat was away; it now resides at the bottom, relegated to the editor's dustbin.  It isn't quite psychotic, just slightly grim.  Maybe I wasn't coping well, driving the family train wreck solo, a bit erratic, light on the brakes, hitting the curves with excess verve.  Without the ballast of another person in the house proportion can get mislaid; the days can become lopsided.  Emotional proprioceptors frayed there is a leaning, balance disolving, into wholesale 'other'.  What is 'other'?  Oh, it is what you don't want on your plate but have foolishly taken a helping of anyway.  Wonderment and grief might mix. 

Pat says dump it; I cannot do that.  The bottom stays, warped mirror that it is. It just isn't the lead-in that it was.  Lines, paragraphs, pages get written - I couldn't begin to tell you why, and some are empty and can be tossed into the deep pool where stillborn words sink into dark, earned oblivion at the bottom.  Other words link up to, perhaps, say something; at least I think they do, and they simply must be tossed up into the air to see if they have wings.  The bottom entry has wings, I am sure of it; I am tossing it up.

Pat has been home about 3 weeks and all goes swimmingly.  When last seen in California the new rufus, Baby Jack Robin Hillard, was thriving and the family trying to settle into its new dimensions.  In Maine we have a touch of bad humor now and then over the weather, but we plunge toward next year filled with hope.  Waldo has made a miraculous recovery and is once again a puppy.  He is on daily antinflammatory and pain meds. (Three bucks a pill - has Obamasan considered health care for pets?  Bailout the Boxers!!!!)  Never got the last round of antibiotics into him; he rallied without them and has learned to be quite the quick hound on three legs.  Each and all of us are in good health.  The chickens forge about in the inch or so of snow and appear perfectly content.  LBJ (Light Bramha Cockerel Jimmybob) has come into his own, valiantly attempting to cover 18 hens, ouch!, crowing up the sun, and bluffing dogs.  I see some success for him as there are occasional fertile eggs now.  Come spring he will get to be a dad, I think.

The greenhouse is a continuing marvel.  Inside temp has dropped to 25f, when it is 15f outside, and the tomatoes and tomatillos are withered and gone, but the carrots, beets and brassica continue to put out leaves.  I seem to be going through wood at an alarming rate.  At 15f out the wood furnace is working at max output, the fire box as full of wood as I can get it and roaring, to keep house and greenhouse warm. 

We've had almost no snow.  Did get 5" of freezing rain in one storm and the gravity-feed sump drain in the basement backed up and I had to pump 4" of  ice water out from under the house.  An exciting few hours running around in the wet and the cold getting hoses and fittings set up. 

Ara and his good right arm, Natty, are off to Africa in a couple of weeks.  They are going up Kilimanjaro on the Lemosho Trail.  There is lots about this trek online.  Sounds so damn exciting.  Planning for this trip started about 3 years ago with Zoe deciding it was something that she could drag Ara and me along on.  I did consider it, but having nearly died at 17,000 feet on the Inca Trail there is no way I could manage over 19,000 feet.  Pat could do it; she ran circles around me in Peru when we hiked.  My delight in Kilimanjaro  will have to be vicarious.  Natty and Ara have a blog site; I am 'very' hopeful Natty will put stuff down as they travel, a lot of stuff.  It will be a three month trip, all told, and move on up into the Balkans after Africa.

Zoe, last I heard, was trapped in Saigon unable to get a flight out due to the airports in Bangkok being held by protesters.  She has been on the road, Egypt, Turkey and S.E. Asia for the last 3 months or so.  The peripatetic life of single women.

So, read the below - earlier attempt at a letter sans editor, if you care to.  If you are already feeling down then skip it.  Our best to all for the holidays.  We remain Pat, Don and assorted life forms.

A small p.s.  I don't like buying junk for kids, and I figure the stuff that isn't junk, well, their parents can buy it for them.  There are now 7 grandkids vying for the toy-of-the-moment dollar.  We gave all our xmas money this year to a charity:
I liked the sound of them.  They do water and sanitation projects in poor rural areas, spend 85% of donations on the projects, and after many years of work have a 97% sustainability rate.  The only charity I might like more would be the vigilante sterilization committee - maybe the two could combine:  birth control substances in the new wells.......
This page was last updated: February 6, 2009
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