Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

I just finished reading “The Crying Tree,” and I have a few words to say

January 13, 2010

Actually, I’m reconsidering this as I write. What I was thinking about saying sounds a little mean, even to me, so I think I’ll just say this: It’s a first novel and it got finished and published, two pluses right there. It’s a decent read. I would probably consider reading another of Rakha’s books when she publishes one.

It’s unfortunate (for comparison purposes) that I just finished Prince of Players, a rather extraordinary biography of Edwin Booth. Ben’s been going through some old books, and he came down with this one in his hands. “I know you like Shakespeare,” he said (this is somewhat typical of his perception of my engagement with literature), “so you might find this interesting.”

Booth was the older brother of John Wilkes B., whom every Anerican older than 35 has heard of (somewhere in there they quit teaching American history, or at least the unexpurgated version of it). But few outside the realms of literature or drama have heard of Edwin. Yet in his day he was the premier American man of the classical theater. He had a career that spanned decades, and even in his waning days could draw crowds who brought their grandchildren to see the “great man before he died.”

This book was fabulously engaging. I’m sure it’s many years out of print (one of the advantages to hanging on to a lot of old books is that you never know when something will tweak your fancy, or tweak someone else’s), but if you can find it somewhere, I give it five stars.

But I’m afraid The Crying Tree suffered a bit by comparison. Dang it, I said I wasn’t going to be mean, but Rakha dragged out a lot of cliches to assemble into a plot. If you didn’t know very early in the book that the son was gay but nobody else seemed to know it, you just weren’t paying attention. She also relied very heavily on physical description of her characters, which I didn’t care for at all. That may be a personal prejudice, but I find myself often not caring what someone looks like (unless there is some gross deformity that has an impact on the action), and all those print dresses and ravishing locks really slow the action down. A man making a joke about his thinning hair tells me a lot more about the man than someone pointing out that the man’s hair is thinning.

But it was a noble effort, and I’m willing to give her another chance. She’s very young and can only get better, unless the success of this book convinces her that she’s already cracked the code. Which, IMNHO, she hasn’t.

On a lighter note (well maybe not lighter but more cheerful), I talked with an old friend last night, an Army buddy of Ben’s. We haven’t spoken for months and months, but we had a terrific visit. He said he went this year to a 101st Airborne reunion and took my book of poetry with him. When he got his five minutes in the spotlight, he read the assembled three of the Vietnam poems in the book. He said a 93-year-old man cried because “someone got it.” Made my night. . .

And I got a note from a professor at Marylhurst noting that the bookstore was down to one copy of my book and I should get them some more. I will do so.

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The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

Hillary, give it up

March 31, 2008

Now, I’m neither the youngest nor the brightest lightbulb in the fixture, but I do want to make it clear that I know my subject line isn’t the same as “Give it up for Hillary.” Nor do I mean it to be.

There’s a terrific Jimmy Margulies cartoon in today’s “Week In Review,” the op-ed section of the Sunday NY Times. The interviewer/commentator says: “The math is against you in delegates needed for the nomination. . .” and Hillary responds: “I didn’t give up at Valley Forge. . .I didn’t give up at Gettysburg. . .I didn’t give up at D-Day. . .and I’m not giving up now.”

Hillary, you have proven yourself a prevaricator without even the sense to understand when your untruths have been detected. I know you haven’t claimed to have invented the Internet or saved the free world single-handedly. But you have demonstrated the one characteristic that sends me running to the bathroom in case of projectile vomiting. You are the ultimate politician.

Sweetie, I’m your target demographic, an over-50 woman with a couple of college degrees, a lifetime in business, and a strong belief that a woman in the Presidency would bring something that’s badly needed.

But not you. Not now, not ever.

I’m old enough to have voted for both John Anderson and Ross Perot, knowing in each case that I was probably wasting my vote but hoping for something other than business-as-usual. I can honestly say I never even contemplated voting for Ralph Nader, however.

I’m of that rare breed called the “truly independent.” I was a registered Democrat for an extended period of time until I decided that the Democratic Party had lost its marbles. So then I became a registered Republican. Ditto with that party. For some time now, I’ve been registered without party affiliation.

I pay a price for that. I can’t vote (in Oregon, anyway) in any of the party primaries. I contemplated registering again as a Democrat just so I could vote against you in May, but then I realized how many fund-raising and ideological mailings I’d get and decided against it. I think my fellow Oregonians will take care of you here. Many of them actually have some sense.

But if you are banking on calling in chits with the “superdelegates” (and what a crock that is–a group of party “elite” in place to override the will of the voters in case they aren’t smart enough to choose the right candidate–this is democracy?), I hope you will think again. A candidate who gets there by such means will have no more credibility than a President elected by the Supreme Court, to quote someone else’s recent example.

So give it up. Now. Let’s get on with a race between two people who arguably are outsiders from the political establishment, let them present their views, and let the people choose. At this point you are merely a spoiler.

And while I’m busy ranting on this topic I almost never comment on, I have a few words for the other major candidates in this race:

Barack: The Jeremiah Wright thing told me a great deal more about your character than almost anything else you’ve done. I congratulate you for being forthright. I have lots of “sparring partners” with whom I don’t agree (otherwise, we wouldn’t be sparring now, would we?). In fact, if people evaluated my character by the folks that I tolerate and even like to argue with, they’d be way off the mark. Your response to these attacks told me you are really a grownup with a well-developed sense of a diverse world.

I don’t have the background to know the things that you “know” about racism. But I congratulate you on your ability to articulate your position without blowing in the wind.

John: I’m a long-time admirer of yours, but I frankly liked you a great deal better before the GOP apparently started coaching you on what was required to get elected. You’re sounding like a politician, and that isn’t one of your strengths.

I have a certain amount of faith in your common sense and straight talk. Don’t waffle now. Stay who you are, and I might even vote for you. Unlike many of my acquaintance, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be made in the campaign speeches. I just want to elect someone I feel comfortable can make it. No matter who is President, we don’t be out of Iraq tomorrow. But you buy yourself nothing by being so belligerent about it.

Now a few words for “my fellow Americans”: Hey, guys, if you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. It’s not just global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the devalued dollar, and the globalized economy. It’s a comeuppance to the sort of economic colonialization that the U.S.A., as an economically powerful superpower, has been able to indulge in for decades.

If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and hoping for different results, then go toe your favorite party line and vote accordingly.

But if you are concerned about a viable (not necessarily wealthy or over-consuming, just viable) future for yourself and your childen, then take some time to look beyond the heirs apparent for a leader who can actually think. And vote accordingly.

Whoever is elected this fall steps into a mess. He/she will need all of our good wishes and help, so vote for someone you want to help advance “in the direction of your dreams” (to paraphrase Thoreau), not someone you think can fix all your problems.

That person doesn’t exist.

Well, this just chaps MY hide

March 29, 2008

I’m getting darned tired of this stupid weather. Spring officially arrived a week ago, and the next day I planted most of my early garden–brassicas, lettuce starts, green onions, snow peas, sunflowers, a few potatoes (the rest have to wait until we can till the bed again). I also planted another dahlia and four lilies.

Every day since then, it has rained, hailed, snowed, and otherwise generally misbehaved. If this is leading up to an April Fool’s Day blizzard, I am going to be really pissed.

I checked the starts yesterday and they looked fine. I’m afraid to go back and look again after a morning of snow and hail and a full afternoon of monster hail storms. So I’m ignoring things, at least for the moment.

A chicken carcass is simmering on the stove. I roasted a chicken tonight, made mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy, and as we were stuffing our faces Ben looked over and said, “That chicken cries out to be made into soup.” And I started visualizing chicken and dumplings.

After a week of crappy weather I am really tired of feeding fires, but I told Ben if he’d feed the stove so I could do something else, I’d cook the chicken down and make something wonderful. He agreed, and before too long I’ll be able to set it off to cool and deal with it tomorrow.

I met all the poetry contest deadlines only to discover some other writing challenges. I’m working on a Malayan pantoum at the moment about a funeral. The pantoum lends itself wonderfully to ritual, and I suppose that’s what’s on my mind now. A week from tomorrow is Tom’s wake, and I’m running out of energy to deal with the emotions (other people’s, not my own–I’m just tired) that are surfacing around that.

So that’s what’s going on here tonight. Even the hummingbirds have been fighting all day. But I did re-engineer my feeder today and it works much better. It was prone to developing an airlock, and you had to go up every so often and give it a good whack. But as I was refilling it today, I found a spot that was obviously supposed to have a little air hole but hadn’t been punched all the way through. So I got a push pin and fixed it. Now it works great. I’m quite smug about that little piece of problem solving.

But I’m still going to be grumpy until I get some sunshine for more than 10 minutes at a time. . .

And then there’s Geraldine Ferraro

March 15, 2008

What a blithering idiot!

I’m sure she’s still smarting over the allegation that her selection as Mondale’s running mate was due to her gender and his wanting to pander to women. (I suspect, by the way that this allegation has a certain ring of truth.)

But her remarks about Obama were so far outside the acceptable limits of politics that she should be pilloried and sent off in disgrace.

It’s interesting to me that when one of Obama’s campaign staff called Clinton “a monster,” she abruptly left the campaign. After Ferraro’s remarks, Clinton said merely that she didn’t agree. Ferraro can’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about.

Clinton is a fierce campaigner, but her propensity for letting her staffers say completely unacceptable things and then just shrugging them off is one of the reasons I will never trust her (there are plenty of others). It feels to me like a deliberate campaign strategy to play dirty while keeping the mud off one’s own hands.

Politics and polis–the Democrats’ dilemma

March 15, 2008

You can’t be following the news on the political front this week and not hark back to Will Rogers’s gibe: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

What really set off this tirade is listening to Hilary Clinton maintain over and over that she can “win in the big states, the ones that matter.”

What the Democrats don’t seem to get is that the “big” states are going to vote “blue” regardless, unless of course they run a blithering idiot for President. Even then, perhaps, they can win in those states. It’s happened before.

What the Dems need to win is a candidate who can appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, urban and rural, white and blue collar, rich and poor, anyone from any walk of life who has a reasonably open mind and likes to think about things.

That candidate is NOT Hilary Clinton, and all of this dithering is simply doing the entire liberal movement a huge disservice.

Clinton represents just more BAU (business as usual). I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I could vote for her, much as I think it would be terrific to see a woman in the Presidency. (I really thought that Laura Bush and Theresa Kerry would have made a much more interesting pairing than their husbands did. . .)

I’m sure my viewpoint is colored by living in Oregon. Although my state has been much in the news lately for its facility with “vote by mail” (of which I heartily approve), it’s really worth looking at for another reason.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in one major metropolitan area. If you add in the residents of the other “cities” in the Willamette Valley, the percentage is probably closer to 70% of the state’s population being urban in nature. Portland becomes, in effect, the “polis” for the state, and the interests of the rest of the residents be damned.

The “big look” committee charged with looking at land use laws is back in action again. The committee was abruptly defunded at the middle of the year last year when it became apparent they were trying to balance urban and rural concerns, which was not what the governor or the legislature had in mind when they set the thing up. The public uproar over the defunding has reversed it.

I have high hopes for this group. One of the members was quoted as saying something like, “It’s clear that what works in Portland and Washington County does not necessarily work well in other parts of the state.” Well, doh. . .

But that needed to be said. Out loud. Urban Oregonians have ridden roughshod over the rest of the state’s residents for decades now. The result is absolute polarization and a complete inability to get anything of meaning done. Sound familiar?

I’d like to see an environment where our elected official returned to doing the business of the electorate as it relates to the economy, social needs, and foreign policy. I’d like to see them stop using sexual escapade investigations and forays into athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs as an excuse to avoid facing the really tough challenges that deserve serious attention.

I don’t think being titillated should be the direct aim of any elected official.

I’d like to see a strong U.S. and a strong dollar again.

I’d like to vote “for” someone for the first time in a long time (as opposed to voting “agin”).

I’ve long been an admirer of Senator McCain, but frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the waffling and snake-oil sales pitch he’s pulling out to not alienate anyone. I expect him to be confrontational, and if he wants to get elected, I think his strengths lie in that direction.

I’m one of those independents they keep talking about. I consider myself  fiscally pretty conservative but socially very liberal. I have no objection to funding social programs, even those I may not benefit from directly. (I’m pretty sure I would benefit indirectly from some of them.) But I do think we need to be operating on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, not accumulating debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

That’s the way I run my personal finances, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask our elected officials to take the same approach. I think we might find some smarter decisions made if we took very seriously the concept of operating on a cash basis and paying the bills as they come due.

Whew! This has gone very far afield from where I started, so let me make another abrupt jag.

Dear Democratic Party: Please give me a choice in November. I can’t commit to Obama right now, but I’m interested enough to want to hear a lot more. I’d like to have the dilemma of two good candidates that I have to choose between.

This election is the Democrats’ election to lose. I just hope they don’t screw it up with back-room politics. If they do, they should probably consider disbanding and leaving the task of representing liberal social policy to some group more qualified.

Death watch, and other miscellany

March 7, 2008

I’m back, although I have to confess that there were times today I didn’t think I could make it home tonight under my own power. But the regenerative characteristics of Starbuck’s bottled frappucinos (sp?) is amazing.

This business of trying to help someone you care about die with a certain amount of dignity is tricky. There are so many moments of sadness, loss, frustration, and sheer terror.

But then, there are also all of these opportunities for the blackest of black humor. Talking with the hospice nurse today, I relayed a couple of stories and noted, “I have a very black sense of humor.” She laughed and said, “You have a great future with hospice care should you ever want one.”

To wit, one: Tom still believes in his heart of hearts that he can do any thing he sets his mind to. His muscles are failing him (that could have something to do with the one-third or more of his body weight that he’s lost–one of Lisa’s questions for the hospice nurse a few weeks ago was “How can anyone so thin still walk?”), so getting up and out of bed is a challenge.

But Tom is an engineer, so he has figured out that if he can get positioned and rock back and forth enough, he can catapult himself to his feet. This has a good side and a bad side.

Last night on Tom-watch I lay down beside him and he decided to get up. Before I could get around the bed to help him, he used the catapult technique to catapult himself right into the dresser, head first. I didn’t even see the cut over his eye when I first helped him up. But I heard him hit.

Here’s where the terror comes in. I’m thinking, “OMG, concussion at the very least.” I’m starting to panic, wondering if I should call hospice or 911 or someone. Then reality kicks in.

Concussion. Headaches. Confusion. Trouble in recalling words and speaking clearly. What would be different? A brain tumor is something like a permanent ongoing concussion, or at least this particular brain tumor is. A part of me wants to giggle. Another part wants to cry.

The hospice nurse reinforced that. She said, “At this point, almost nothing matters.” The hospice primary care person said, “Now we talk about weeks rather than months. How do we keep him comfortable?”

As part of the comfort therapy, I drove across Salem today to pick up two prescriptions. A hospice volunteer was with Tom, who can’t be left alone at this point. Tom’s treatment plan changed abruptly today, and I thought if I picked up the medications, it would save Lisa a struggle with how to do it. The prescriptions were to be filled at a pharmacy about as far from Tom and Lisa’s house as you can get and still be in Salem, because the pharmacy happened to be the only one that had one of them in stock.

When I got there (about a 25-minute drive), the pharmacy had decided they could only fill one prescription without additional faxes and information from the hospice prescribing physician. So I could fill one prescription, but not solve the main problem.

I almost went ballistic. I even considered just leaning across the counter and bursting into tears (I was so-o-o-o tired at this point). But instead, I decided to get what I could get and go fight the battle elsewhere.

Then the clerk behind the pharmacy counter said (prescription medication in hand): “Since Tom has never filled a prescription with us before, we need to develop a profile for him.” (It is worth noting that at this time there were eight people behind me in line for this single clerk.)  I bit my tongue, gave her his full address (I couldn’t remember the zip code exactly, and after 2 minutes of dithering around with her computer and throwing various options at me, the clerk said, “Never mind, we’ll fix it later.”)  and phone number, date of birth, location of any moles, and so one. Then the clerk asked, “Does he have any allergies?”

That stopped me cold. “I don’t know,” I said, “but since he’s dying of terminal cancer does it really matter?”

“Well,” she said, “we wouldn’t want to make him sick now, would we?”

Now I’m having a lot of trouble even categorizing this post. I’m going to quit and go to bed. Lisa was so worried when I left that I called to tell her I got home safely (still feeling guilty for leaving her alone with Tom). She said (with a rueful voice) that he was stuck in the hall again. So we kept the conversation short and I felt guiltier than ever at leaving her to deal with this alone.

It should not be this hard to die.

OK, I confess I just can’t help it–my dream ticket

February 11, 2008

I don’t talk politics with friends. It’s just easier that way. But a day or two ago, Ben commented in this space that he thought this was the first interesting political year we’ve had in a long time, and I’m inclined to agree.

Clinton fired her campaign manager today. If she is determined to preserve her position as candidate presumptive, I can’t imagine a worse move. Even if she wanted to get him out, the right strategy would have been to promote him to some high-level, do-nothing position and have someone else of her choice actually pulling the strings. So apparently she is going to milk the underdog position, if she can manage that, for all that it’s worth. Which may not be much.

There was a terrific cartoon in The Christian Science Monitor this week. A pollster at the door of some suburban house was asking, “So, are you going to vote for the first woman president? The first Black president? The first Mormon president? The first POW president?” And so on.

The woman at the door responded, “I’d be happy to vote for the first honest president.”

I’m just tired of seeing only politicians running for office. I think the founders of this country envisioned a situation in which the most upright of our citizens put his/her life on hold for some period of time to go off to do the country’s/state’s/county’s/city’s business and then returned to live with the results.

It’s been decades, at the least, since we had that circumstance. What we have now are egoists determined to earn a living from the public trough while imposing their opinions on the rest of the world. If I am as apolitical as I think I am, that’s why.

Hilary shed “tears of passion” for public service. But it’s not so long ago (20 years, maybe?) that a terrific Congresswoman from Colorado, Pat Schroeder, was pilloried for weeping in public. It effectively ended her political career. I somehow find Clinton’s tears a lot less sincere.

This is the first election since 1960 that I can imagine myself actually voting “for” someone instead of “against” someone else. It intrigues me and makes me want to learn as much as I can about the someones running for office.

Like the woman in the cartoon, I want honesty. I don’t think that means I need to know all of the secrets of national security. But I want to believe that when my elected leader tells me something is in my best interests, I can trust him/her.

I find McCain interesting. I wish he were 10 years younger, and frankly, a lot will ride on who he selects as his running mate. It doesn’t bother me that he occasionally loses his temper. The world is so screwed up that it would be unbelievable not to lose one’s temper at times. He reminds me a bit of Harry Truman (which George W. doesn’t), a president who could be downright testy but was the right man at the right time. He was also a man who didn’t really want to be president and did not run for re-election.

Obama is inspiring. He is inexperienced at many things. But given my feelings about career politicians, this is not necessarily a handicap. However, given my assumptions about the state of the world and the U.S.’s place in it, it concerns me. If I knew that he would surround himself with a group of pragmatists like McCain and philosophers like Princeton’s Kwame Appiah, I might feel stronger.

The other candidates who have presented themselves interest me not at all. They are either old-time pols or just plain out-of-the-mainstream folks. I don’t think we can afford either.

I was impressed with Ted Kennedy’s “time to pass the torch” speech. I’ve never been a great Ted fan, but I thought he had something useful to say here. I’m part of the Vietnam generation, and I think there comes a time to let the past be the past. One of the things that impresses me about McCain is that after years as a POW he was among the first to lead the charge to reconcile with Vietnam.

So here’s my dream ticket: If I were presented with a ballot with McCain for president and Obama for V.P., it would be a no brainer. It’s not an unprecendented occurence in this country for the P. and V.P to be of different parties, although admittedly it has been rare.

But it’s not unthinkable. And it’s not even impossible. This year the Democratic Convention comes first. If the Democrats are so stupid as to use the power of the extra delegates to freeze out the most interesting candidate they’ve had in decades (the whole reason, BTW, that these delegates exist), they deserve what they get.

I can’t see Obama playing second fiddle to Ms. Clinton. But I can see him partnering with McCain to get things back on track and in the process seasoning himself.

Just my thoughts. If it ends up being McCain vs. Obama, I’ll have a lot of thinking to do.

Of course, we are all busy dying

February 10, 2008

That is not meant to be flip. The amazing thing is that we also get to cram so much living into the process. But every seven years, your body has replaced every cell in it with a new cell generated for one that has died off. How many bodies have you had?

One of my all-time favorite movies–perhaps my VERY favorite–is Zorba the Greek. The story is taken from a book of the same title by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantkakis. I suspect I must have mentioned this before, because my dear friend Phil sent me a copy of Kazantkakis’s Report to Greco that occupies a treasured place on my bookshelf. I share so much philosophy with this man. But that reflection is for another post.

It’s impossible for me to think about dying without thinking about Zorba. The movie is brilliant, with incredible performances by Anthony Quinn as Zorba, Alan Bates as “the Englishman” (a bookish sort who comes to this small Greek island with visions of imposing his orderly logic on the project he’s sent to manage), and Irene Papas as the young Greek widow who is stoned to death for canoodling with the Englishman. Then of course there is the unforgettable performance of Lila Kedrova as the aging courtesan, a character I seem to relate to more and more as the years pass.

There are many influences of this movie I can picture in my life. One of the most vivid is an evening drinking ouzo in a tavern in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District with a bunch of Greek sailors and dancing all night to bazouki music until I could hardly walk to my car, let alone drive home. I’m not sure I would have braved the dancing without the memory of Zorba resonating in my brain, but I can say that it was a highlight night of my life.

It also taught me not to drink ouzo. No matter how much I like the taste of anise and the mysterious way this crystalline liquer turns cloudy with a drop of water or melting ice, the next morning’s head isn’t worth it.

This really is relevant.

The young Greek woman played by Irene Papas is stoned to death by the villagers after spending a night with the Englishman. What follows is this (probably loosely paraphrased):

Zorba:  “Why do the young die?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

Zorba: “What the hell is the good of all your damned books if they don’t tell you that?”

Englishman: “I don’t know.”

As a book person, I don’t know either. I do know that books are important to me, that they give me a window into other people’s minds and other ways of seeing.

But I, too, still don’t understand why the young die.

I also don’t understand why sending this message off into the ether gives me comfort, but it does. And when I get notes back, the comfort is doubled. Thank you, Phil and Jeff.

“Well this,” she said, “just chaps my hide.”

January 2, 2008

Full disclosure: There may be a rant coming here. In fact there may be several. At the very least, what’s going on in my head is what might be called “stream of consciousness.”

That’s a rather innocuous phrase, until we examine the components. I’ll ignore the “of,” a preposition that’s hardly worth its own dissertation. You can’t really appreciate prepositions unless you are old enough to have diagrammed sentences in English class or have read the delightful little book Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, a history and examination of the diagramming of sentences.

But “stream”: Now there’s a word worth reckoning with, particularly if you live, as I do, with a “stream.” The Big Elk is, at some times of the year, a gentle little trickle that murmurs over mossy rocks and smooth round stones. It gives a home to crawdads (crayfish to you purists out there) and children of all ages interested in the art of skipping stones and wading. At other times of the year, however, it roars along with loud crashing, carrying 2-ton logs, lawn chairs, plastic buckets, and any other detritus that some human was careless enough to leave within its reach. A powerful word, “stream.”

And “consciousness”: A concept that’s getting a lot of play right now, mostly because for all of our scientific advancement, no one really knows what it is. For a long, long time, science argued that only humans are conscious. Now, setting egos aside, it would appear that consciousness exists across the animal world and possibly across the plant world as well. There are days that I would argue that even the stones here are conscious.

But all of this has little to do with my subject line, which is a direct quote from my daughter. She was confronting her freshman-English teacher about the amount of homework assigned in her Catholic high school.

When I heard the story, I was stunned, not because she talked back to a teacher (I would expect no less of any child that grew up in our house) but because of what she said. I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so summarily appropriate to the situation that I was breathless in admiration.

“Chaps my hide”: This is the poetry of the American west, of cowboys and wranglers. It speaks of things so grating that we can only compare them to skin rubbed raw. But where in the world did my 14-year-old city slicker hear this expression? I still don’t know.

But I’ve never forgotten it, even though nearly two decades have passed. And there are, frankly, a lot of things that chap my hide.

First and foremost on my mind this evening is packaging. If is seems like I spend a lot of time worrying about packaging, it’s because I do. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I can reuse. I can recycle. But it feels as if I have very little control over the “reduction” of trash.

I could, of course, refuse to buy anything that’s packaged inappropriately. I’d be a lot richer financially if I did, because it seems as if these days almost everything is packaged inappropriately.

This rant was set off in part by trying to open various packages of things today.

I am a strong person, particularly for someone of the “female persuasion.” I have a lot of upper body strength especially. Some years back, when Ben had a broken foot, I decided to mow the lawns because they were getting rather shaggy. At the time we lived in a house that had only a wealth of parking strips (corner lot) and a postage-stamp back yard. So we had only a couple of the old rotary push mowers. They did a wonderful job, used no fuel except burned calories, and emitted no excess carbon.

But the grass was rather long, because it took me awhile to recognize that Ben probably wasn’t going to mow the lawn right away. So I went out to do it. That afternoon, I stripped the gears on not one but two old rotary mowers by trying to power my way through the long grass.

The lawn-mower repairman said he’d never seen anything like it in 60 years in the business. But it did have one felicitous result: I was forbidden to ever mow the lawn again.

What does this have to do with packaging? Just this: I am sick and tired of “easy open” packages that I cannot open without the assistance of heavy kitchen shears. Either they refuse to tear at all or they suddenly tear and explode ingredients all over my kitchen. Enough.

Especially since then I have to dispose of all that packaging. It made me mad opening it. It’s making me madder throwing it away. It frankly chaps my hide. . .